Jennifer Doudna wins 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

On October 7, 2020, Berkeley biochemist Jennifer Doudna won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, sharing it with colleague Emmanuelle Charpentier for the co-development of CRISPR-Cas9, a genome editing breakthrough that has revolutionized biomedicine.

CRISPR-Cas9 allows scientists to rewrite DNA — the code of life — in any organism, including human cells, with unprecedented efficiency and precision. The groundbreaking power and versatility of CRISPR-Cas9 has opened up new and wide-ranging possibilities across biology, agriculture and medicine, including the treatment of thousands of intractable diseases.

Doudna and Charpentier, director of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, will share the 10 million Swedish krona (more than $1 million) prize.

“This great honor recognizes the history of CRISPR and the collaborative story of harnessing it into a profoundly powerful engineering technology that gives new hope and possibility to our society,” said Doudna. “What started as a curiosity‐driven, fundamental discovery project has now become the breakthrough strategy used by countless researchers working to help improve the human condition. I encourage continued support of fundamental science as well as public discourse about the ethical uses and responsible regulation of CRISPR technology.”

While women have done research at UC Berkeley that, after they left the campus, won them a Nobel Prize, Doudna is the first woman on the UC Berkeley faculty to win the coveted award. She is the campus’s 25th Nobel laureate; the 24th winner, Reinhard Genzel, won the Nobel Prize in Physics just yesterday.

Today’s honor also brings another first: Doudna and Charpentier are the first women to win a Nobel Prize in the sciences together, which sends the message, Doudna said, that “women rock.”

“Many women think that, no matter what they do, their work will never be recognized the way it would be if they were a man,” said Doudna, who was awakened from a sound sleep by a reporter at 2:53 a.m. today, learning for the first time that she’d won a Nobel. “And I think (this prize) refutes that. It makes a strong statement that women can do science, women can do chemistry, and that great science is recognized and honored.

“That means a lot to me personally, because I know that, when I was growing up, I couldn’t, in a million years, have ever imagined this moment.”

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