UC Berkeley professor Jennifer Doudna receives Nobel Prize in chemistry

Photo of Jennifer Doudna posing with CRISPR model
UC Berkeley/Stephen McNally/Courtesy
In addition to her Nobel Prize in chemistry, Doudna has won several other prizes including the Kavli Prize in Nanoscience and the Life Sciences Breakthrough Prize.

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Jennifer Doudna, UC Berkeley professor of chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology, was awarded half of the Nobel Prize in chemistry Wednesday for developing the gene-editing technology CRISPR-Cas9.

Doudna shares the Nobel Prize with Emmanuelle Charpentier, director of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Germany, with whom she developed CRISPR-Cas9 in 2012. The technology can be used to make high-precision alterations to DNA and has contributed to new cancer therapies and progress toward curing inherited diseases, according to a Nobel Prize press release.

Doudna is the first woman at UC Berkeley to receive the Nobel Prize, Chancellor Carol Christ said at a Wednesday press conference.

“I’m over the moon. I’m in shock,” Doudna said at the press conference. “I couldn’t be happier to be representing UC Berkeley. It’s been an extraordinary time that I’ve had here.”

Doudna credited campus professor Jillian Banfield at the press conference for being one of the very first scientists to notice CRISPR and share this information with her. She also credited Charpentier and an international team who contributed significantly to the prize-winning research.

As a biochemist, Doudna said at the press conference she took a keen interest in CRISPR-Cas9 as it protects bacteria from viral infection. Doudna along with Charpentier and their teams would go on to discover that the Cas9 enzyme could cut DNA sequences at specific locations.

According to the Nobel Prize press release, this research has helped create crops resistant to mold, pests and drought.

“These genetic scissors have taken the life sciences into a new epoch and, in many ways, are bringing the greatest benefit to humankind,” according to press release.

Spokesperson for the UC Berkeley Innovative Genomics Institute — of which Doudna is president — Andy Murdock said colleagues of Doudna were happy to receive the news.

Murdock added that Doudna receiving the Nobel Prize was a “bright spot” in a difficult year.

“There was a feeling of tremendous joy and pride from her colleagues, students, and her mentors,” Murdock said in an email.

Murdock noted that Doudna missed the initial call from the Nobel Committee. Instead, Doudna learned of her award when she was awoken by a call from a reporter asking for a comment. According to Murdock, Doudna responded by asking who won.

In addition to her Nobel Prize, Doudna has won several other prizes including the Kavli Prize in Nanoscience and the Life Sciences Breakthrough Prize, according to a Caribou Biosciences press release. Caribou Biosciences was co-founded by Doudna and has an exclusive license to CRISPR-Cas9 patent rights.

“I want to just give a shoutout to my colleagues, to my laboratory members and all the students that I worked with over the years, especially here at Berkeley,” Doudna said. “It’s been wonderful to be here.”

Contact Leon Chen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @leonwchen.