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The women who developed CRISPR just won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Research by the scientists awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry today has the potential to change the course of humanity—and even make literal unicorns a reality.

The women who developed CRISPR just won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Jennifer A. Doudna (left) and Emmanuelle Charpentier (right). [Photo: Alexander Heinl/picture alliance via Getty Images]

The two women who developed the CRISPR gene-editing technique have won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, the Nobel Committee announced today. The French scientist Emmanuelle Charpentier and American scientist Jennifer A. Doudna were awarded the world’s most prestigious science recognition “for the development of a method for genome editing.” It’s the first time that two women have shared the Nobel Prize.

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Charpentier and Doudna discovered the CRISPR “genetic scissors” editing technique in 2012. Since then there has been an explosion of research around the world using their discovery. Already their technique has allowed scientists to create crops that can withstand drought and pests, and it is believed that one day CRISPR will allow for treatments that can cure inherited diseases, such as cancer.

Needless to say, research by the two scientists awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry today has the potential to change the course of humanity. And with that potential comes lots of VC money and companies vying for patents on techniques and therapies derived from Charpentier’s and Doudna’s research.

One such company is Doudna’s Editas Medicine, while others include Caribou Biosciences, Intellia Therapeutics, and Casebia Therapeutics. Given the world-changing applications—and the amount of revenue such CRISPR therapies could bring in—it’s no wonder that such rivalry is often heated (and in some cases has led to lawsuits over the technology and its patents).

That rivalry is understandable considering the potential power CRISPR puts into the hands of mere mortals. As Doudna explained in her book, A Crack in Creation: Gene Editing and the Unthinkable Power to Control Evolution, cowritten by Samuel H. Sternberg and which Fast Company excerpted a few years ago, “Within a few decades, we might well have genetically engineered pigs that can serve as human organ donors—but we could also have woolly mammoths, winged lizards, and unicorns.” And as for that last part, she made clear, “No, I am not kidding.”

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Given that, is it little wonder Doudna and Charpentier took home the Nobel Prize in Chemistry this year?

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