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Is CRISPR the favorite to win this year’s Nobel Prize? Maybe

Is CRISPR the favorite to win this year’s Nobel Prize? Maybe
[Photo: blackdovfx/iStock]

CRISPR (that’s short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) is the coolest gene-editing technique around, and it is revolutionizing the field of biochemistry by making it faster, easier, cheaper, and more precise to delete, repair, or replace genes. Radiolab has a great explainer on the tech, which you can listen to here, and we wrote about some of the ethical dilemmas posed by the technology. While usually the creators of such groundbreaking tech would be practicing their Scrooge McDuck backstrokes in anticipation of collecting the eight million Swedish kronor that comes with the Nobel Prize, CRISPR may not be the favorite to win this year.

After all, CRISPR already lost out on the Nobel Prize in chemistry twice. First in 2015, when it lost to scientists looking at how DNA repairs itself, and then again in 2016, when it lost to the team that used molecular physics to create the world’s smallest machines (which hopefully played the world’s smallest violin for CRISPR).

There’s no doubt that CRISPR technology is revolutionary and incredibly scientifically important in fields as diverse as agriculture and human biology. It could lead to a world filled with drought-resistant crops, or one where diseases like cystic fibrosis or Huntington’s could be simply snipped out of a gene. But the tech is embroiled in a patent war between MIT’s Feng Zhang and Berkeley’s Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, who is now at the Max Plank Institute. While MIT filed first, Doudna and Charpentier proved CRISPR tech was viable in 2012, using Cas9 technology. However, many other teams have built on the tech, making it more utilitarian, more efficient, and more precise, and some people think those advances were the real groundbreakers.

Since the Nobel committee only lets three people claim the award for their work—and they probably want to avoid getting involved in patent kerfuffles— they may want the court to weigh in before they decide which team should get the laurels (and the cold hard cash). Plus, perhaps this is the year that the lithium–ion battery will finally get the attention it deserves from the Noble committee.

The chemistry Nobel Prize will be revealed on October 4.ML