CRISPR Scientists Receive 2020 Wolf Prize in Medicine

By Rajaneesh K. Gopinath, Ph.D.

Prof. Jennifer Doudna and Prof. Emmanuelle Charpentier bag the prestigious award for their pioneering work in developing the CRISPR/Cas9 editing technology. 

The Wolf Prize is an international recognition bestowed upon scientists for their contributions to society. Granted by the Wolf Foundation in Israel since 1978, the prestigious award is named after the inventor Ricardo Wolf. On Monday, the chairman of the foundation, Nobelist Prof. Dan Shechtman announced this year’s laureates. The Wolf Prize in Medicine for the year 2020 went to Jennifer Doudna of UC Berkeley “for revealing the medicine-revolutionizing mechanism of bacterial immunity via RNA-guided genome editing” and Emmanuelle Charpentier of Max Planck Institute “for deciphering and repurposing the bacterial CRISPR/Cas9 immune system for genome editing”.

The discovery of the CRISPR/Cas9 system is a radical breakthrough of this century. Initially identified as a highly specialized adaptive immune system in bacteria and archaea, it was soon adapted as a gene-editing tool in other organisms. The near precision and relative simplicity with which a guide RNA and Cas9 enzyme could edit/repair the genome was previously unheard of. The technology has already started to impact modern biology and it is expected to truly revolutionize medicine with newer research providing regular upgradations. Among the various people who have shaped this rapidly growing field, collaborators Doudna and Charpentier have played a pivotal role in demonstrating that the CRISPR/Cas9 bacterial immune system could be tailored to edit any DNA region of one’s interest. Their results were published in a seminal Science paper in 2012. 

Due to its potency, the CRISPR technology is also under the heavy danger of being misused. Its ethical implementation is yet to be properly delineated and a few scientists have been found guilty of breaching the line. With this award, Prof. Doudna is also recognized for her efforts in seeking global involvement in drafting ethical guidelines for CRISPR usage. Each laureate will receive a certificate and $100,000 prize in the award ceremony scheduled at Jerusalem on June 11, 2020.



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