The Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the year 2020 has gone to Emmanuelle Charpentier of France and Jennifer A Doudna of America jointly for their gene-editing technique known as the CRISPR-Cas9 DNA snipping “scissors”. This is the first time a Nobel science prize has gone wholly to women.
Secretary-General of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences Goran Hansson announced the recipients today in Stockholm.
The Nobel jury said that using the techniques, researchers could change the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms with extremely high precision. “This technology has had a revolutionary impact on the life sciences, is contributing to new cancer therapies and may make the dream of curing inherited diseases come true,” it said.
The technique had received Nobel nominations several times in the past. Speaking to reporters in Stockholm through a telephone link, Charpentier said the call was still a surprise. “Strangely enough I was told a number of times (it might happen) but when it happens you are very surprised and you feel that it’s not real,” she said.
“But obviously it is real so I have to get used to it now,” she added.
Charpentier, 51, and Doudna, 56, are just the sixth and seventh women to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and this is the first time a Nobel science prize goes to a women-only team.
The prestigious award comes with a gold medal and prize money of 10 million krona (more than $1.1 million), courtesy of a bequest left more than a century ago by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel. The amount was increased recently to adjust for inflation.
On 5 October, the Nobel Committee had awarded the prize for physiology and medicine to Americans Harvey J. Alter and Charles M. Rice and British-born scientist Michael Houghton for discovering the liver-ravaging hepatitis C virus. Tuesday’s prize for physics went to Roger Penrose of Britain, Reinhard Genzel of Germany and Andrea Ghez of the United States for their breakthroughs in understanding the mysteries of cosmic black holes.
The non-science Nobel prizes — for outstanding work in the fields of literature, peace and economics — are awarded by a separate organisation based in Oslo, the capital of Norway.