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Nobel Prize in Chemistry Awarded to 2 Scientists for Work on Genome Editing

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[View the latest updates to the 2020 Nobel Prize winners list.]

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was jointly awarded on Wednesday to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna for the development of a method for genome editing in 2012.

“This year’s prize is about rewriting the code of life,” Goran K. Hansson, the secretary-general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, said as he announced the names of the laureates.

Dr. Charpentier and Dr. Doudna discovered the Crispr-Cas 9 tool, a kind of genetic scissors that allows researchers to alter the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms with extremely high precision.

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Claes Gustafsson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry, said, “There is enormous power in this genetic tool, which affects us all. It has not only revolutionized basic science, but also resulted in innovative crops and will lead to groundbreaking new medical treatments.”

The two scientists are only the fifth and sixth women to be awarded the Chemistry Nobel.

Dr. Charpentier, who is French, is the director of the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens in Berlin. Dr. Doudna (the first syllable rhymes with loud) is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. They are the third and fourth women to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in the 21st century, out of more than 50 recipients.

Dr. Charpentier said she was “happy” to be one of the few female recipients of the prize, and hoped the win would be inspiring to young women “to follow the path of science.” The joint win between two women in academic disciplines still dominated by men, she added, “can provide a really strong message for young girls.”

Dr. Charpentier, 51, and Dr. Doudna, 56, met at a cafe in Puerto Rico in 2011 on the margins of a conference they were both attending, the Nobel committee said. They first published their discovery of the Crispr-Cas 9 genetic scissors in 2012.

John B. Goodenough, M. Stanley Whittingham and Akira Yoshino were recognized for research on lithium-ion batteries that has “laid the foundation of a wireless, fossil fuel-free society,” according to the prize committee.

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