UC Berkeley professor Jennifer Doudna wins 2020 Wolf Prize in Medicine

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UC Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology and of chemistry Jennifer Doudna has been awarded the 2020 Wolf Prize in Medicine for her discovery of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing tool.

Doudna and her colleague Emmanuelle Charpentier, microbiologist and director of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Germany, invented CRISPR-Cas9 in 2012, according to a Berkeley News article. This technology is used to target genes for desired modification, thus capable of switching genes on or off and changing, repairing or removing genes.

“It is an honor to accept this award and pleasing to see fundamental scientific research promoted and the two international research teams acknowledged,” Doudna said in an email. “We must work to ensure that the technology is responsibly applied to allow it to reach its potential and benefit millions in need.”

This technology has enabled researchers in molecular biology laboratories around the world to edit genomes more efficiently because they are now able to accurately splice DNA, according to a Wolf Foundation article. CRISPR-Cas9 has also expanded the search for the treatment of human genetic disorders.

As a result of this technology’s potential to cure human diseases, interest among the pharmaceutical industry has risen, Charpentier said in an email. She hopes that the next decade will see the success of CRISPR-Cas9 in treating diseases that are currently hard to cure.

“Science is not always easy but the CRISPR-Cas9 discovery in my case is a perfect example showing how believing in your projects and persevering to have your goals come true is worth the journey,” Charpentier said in an email.

Every year, the Wolf Prize is awarded to exceptional artists and scientists for their “advancements for humanity,” without consideration of the recipients’ religion, nationality, gender or political outlook, said Reut Inon-Berman, director general of the Wolf Foundation, in an email.

Inon-Berman added that 345 artists and scientists have been awarded Wolf Prizes and, of those acclaimed, about one-third have continued on to receive the Nobel Prize in the same area as their Wolf Prize. Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and artist Louise Bourgeois are among the many recipients of this prize.

“The Wolf Prize’s selection committees painstakingly examine hundreds of top-ranked candidates in their field,” Inon-Berman said in an email. “They seek proven achievements, expression of original thought, and the extent of the candidate’s influence on other scholars and artists, and on our human society.”

Doudna was awarded the prize for her work on the “medicine-revolutionizing” mechanism of bacterial immunity through RNA-guided genome editing and her input on the ethics of this technology, according to Inon-Berman.

The award ceremony will occur June 11 with every recipient being presented with a certificate and a monetary award of $100,000.

Maxine Mouly is an academics and administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @moulymaxine.