Two Women Win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for Pioneering 'Genetic Scissors'

Illustration for article titled Two Women Win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for Pioneering 'Genetic Scissors'
Image: AP

A French microbiologist and an American biochemist have become the first women to jointly win the Nobel Prize in chemistry, and only the sixth and seventh women to win the chemistry prize since the awards began in 1901. (One past winner was Marie Curie; another was her daughter, Irene.)


Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna earned the honor for pioneering the CRISPR/Cas9, a gene editing tool which allows researchers to change DNA faster, more cheaply and more accurately than other methods. Per Scientific American,

This CRISPR tool, often described as “genetic scissors,” has been used by plant researchers to develop crops that withstand pests and drought, and it could transform agriculture. In medicine, the method is involved in clinical trials of new cancer therapies. And researchers are trying to employ it to cure certain inherited diseases. “It is being used all over science,” says Claes Gustafsson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.

Charpentier and Doudna began collaborating in 2011 after meeting at a conference in Puerto Rico, where they discovered the overlap of their work. They’ll split the prize money of 10 million Swedish kroner, or just over $1.1 million.

While many women have been nominated for their work in chemistry, the dearth of female winners reflects a bias against women rather than the quality of their work, said Luis Echegoyen, president of the American Chemical Society.

“I’m very happy this prize goes to two women,” Charpentier told SA. “I hope it provides a positive message for young girls, young women, who wish to follow the path of science.” At a press conference, Doudna said similar: “I’m delighted to inspire the next generation, if possible.” 


Is it just me, or is Emmanuelle Charpentier absolutely adorable? (I have a type. So sue me.)

It’s been a stunning year for women and Nobel prizes. I actually just learned this week that physics is becoming so complicated these days that it’s downright impossible to have a single person get recognized with a Nobel Prize for Physics. Even with the team of Andrea Ghez, Lauren B. Leichtman and Arthur E. Levine this year, there probably should have been two or three more people sharing in the prize. However, Nobel committee rules restrict the prize to be shared by no more than three people.

That said, congratulations to Andrea Ghez for joining an elite club of super smart women. And congratulations to Charpentier and Doudna for kicking ass too.