Jennifer Doudna, New Nobel Laureate, on Science and Covid

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Good morning.

Last week, Nobel Prize season arrived.

Among the several winners with ties to California were two Stanford professors — Paul R. Milgrom and Robert B. Wilson, were awarded the Nobel in economic science — and three University of California scholars. Reinhard Genzel, a U.C. Berkeley professor emeritus of physics and astronomy, and Andrea Ghez, a U.C.L.A. professor of astrophysics, shared the prize in physics with a mathematician at Oxford University for their work on black holes.

And Jennifer Doudna, a U.C. Berkeley professor, shared the prize in chemistry with Emmanuelle Charpentier, now the director of the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens in Berlin, for their work on Crispr-Cas9, a method to edit DNA.

[See the full list of 2020 Nobel winners and read more coverage here.]

It’s the first time the award has gone to two women, and Dr. Doudna is the first woman to win a Nobel Prize while she is still on the U.C. Berkeley faculty.

That role has kept her plugged into campus life in ways that have been both challenging and exciting in the pandemic, Dr. Doudna told me on Thursday. Her lab, for instance, rushed to start doing coronavirus testing back in March.

I asked her about how her work has shifted in the Covid era and about the role of science in 2020.

Here’s our conversation, lightly edited and condensed:

First of all, congratulations! How are you feeling?

I’m in total shock and I don’t feel like I really have had even a minute to think about it. There’s just so many things going on.

The thing I’m really grateful for is I had a chance to go to my lab yesterday. They had thrown together an impromptu party. We were all socially distanced and had our masks

Nobel laureate Jennifer Doudna: Gene editing could make a better future

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UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism facilitated a video news conference and Q&A session with UC Berkeley’s Nobel Prize winner, Jennifer Doudna, this morning. Watch it here. (UC Berkeley video)

Rapid advances in gene-editing technology have a transformative potential to help cure disease and feed the world, but scientists must assure that the tools are not used for unethical purposes, new UC Berkeley Nobel laureate Jennifer Doudna told reporters today.

Following this morning’s announcement that she had won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Doudna detailed the promise of the CRISPR-cas9 technology at a Berkeley press conference, held remotely during the coronavirus pandemic and livestreamed for a global audience. She hailed the collaboration of her colleagues, both at Berkeley and internationally, for the work that won the world’s highest honor in science.

Her research began, and has continued, “with the vision of bringing genome editing to bear on problems facing humanity, whether they be in biomedicine or in agriculture,” Doudna said. In particular, she added, she and her team have worked “with an eye toward affordability, accessibility and sustainability” to develop “technology that will go from a laboratory tool to a standard of care someday in genetic disease, or a way to create the kinds of changes in agricultural products that will be necessary to meet the challenges of climate change.”

The Berkeley biochemist said she received news of her prize when a journalist’s phone call woke her in the pre-dawn hours Wednesday. Doudna shares the honor with colleague Emmanuelle Charpentier, director of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Germany, for their pioneering work on CRISPR-Cas9, a genome-editing breakthrough that is moving rapidly to produce new knowledge and new applications across a range of fields.

It was Berkeley’s second Nobel win this week and 25th in history. On

Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded for CRISPR genome editing to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna

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The Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna for the development of a method for genome editing.



Jennifer Doudna, Emmanuelle Charpentier posing for the camera: The American biochemist Jennifer A. Doudna (left) and French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier, pictured together in 2016.


© Alexander Heinl/picture alliance/Getty Images
The American biochemist Jennifer A. Doudna (left) and French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier, pictured together in 2016.

They discovered one of gene technology’s sharpest tools: the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors. Using these, researchers can change the DNA of animals, plants and micro-organisms with extremely high precision.

Before announcing the winners on Wednesday, Göran K. Hansson, secretary-general for the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, said that this year’s prize was about “rewriting the code of life.”

The CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing tools have revolutionized the molecular life sciences, brought new opportunities for plant breeding, are contributing to innovative cancer therapies and may make the dream of curing inherited diseases come true, according to a press release from the Nobel committee.



a close up of a book: Doudna and Charpentier are the first two women to jointly win the chemistry prize.


© Niklaus Elmehed/Nobel Prize
Doudna and Charpentier are the first two women to jointly win the chemistry prize.

There have also been some ethical concerns around the CRISPR technology, however.

Charpentier, a French microbiologist, and Doudna, an American biochemist, are the first women to jointly win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and the sixth and seventh women to win the chemistry prize.

Charpentier said at a Wednesday news conference that she hoped the win sent a “positive message to the young girls who would like to follow the path of science, and to show them that women in science can also have an impact through the research that they are performing.”

Potential minefield

CRISPR gene-editing technology has often been mentioned as a candidate for the chemistry prize, but David Pendlebury, a senior citation analyst at Clarivate Analytics, told CNN before the announcement that it was a potential minefield for a Nobel Committee that likes to

Charpentier and Doudna win 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

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STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Scientists Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of a method for genome editing, the award-giving body said on Wednesday.

“Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna have discovered one of gene technology’s sharpest tools: the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement on awarding the 10 million Swedish crown ($1.1 million) prize.

“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.”

“The ability to cut the DNA where you want has revolutionized the life sciences” Pernilla Wittung Stafshede, member of the academy of sciences, told reporters.

Charpentier, who is French, and Doudna, an American, become the sixth and seventh women to win a Nobel for chemistry, joining the likes of Marie Curie, who won in 1911, and more recently, Frances Arnold, in 2018.

In keeping with tradition, chemistry is the third prize announced every year and follows those for medicine and physics earlier this week.

The prizes for achievements in science, literature and peace were created and funded in the will of Swedish dynamite inventor and businessman Alfred Nobel and have been awarded since 1901, with the economics award a later addition.

Like so much else, the pandemic has redrawn the Nobels, with many of the traditional events, such as the grand banquet, cancelled or moved online even as research into the disease – above all the hunt for a vaccine – has dominated the scientific spotlight.

Reporting by Niklas Pollard; additional reporting Simon Johnson, Anna Ringstrom, Supantha Mukherjee, Colm Fulton and Johannes Hellstrom; Editing by Alison Williams and Giles Elgood

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