2 chemists in France and the United States win the Nobel Prize for gene editing tools

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STOCKHOLM – The Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded Wednesday to two researchers for a gene-editing tool that revolutionized science by providing a way to modify DNA, the code of life – a technology already in use in attempts to to cure a host of diseases and raise better crops and livestock.Emmanuelle Charpentier from France and Jennifer A. Doudna from the United States won for the development of CRISPR-cas9, a very simple technique for cutting a gene at a specific location, allowing scientists to operate on defects that are at the origin of many diseases.

“There is enormous power in this genetic tool,” said Claes Gustafsson, chairman of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.

More than 100 clinical trials are underway to study the use of CRISPR to treat inherited diseases, and “many show great promise,” according to Victor Dzau, president of the National Academy of Medicine.

“My greatest hope is that it will be used for good, to uncover new mysteries in biology and for the benefit of mankind,” said Doudna, affiliated with the University of California at Berkeley and Paid by Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which also supports the Associated Press’s Department of Health and Science.

The award-winning work has opened the door to some ethical issues: When editing is done after birth, the changes are confined to that person. Scientists fear that CRISPR may be misused to make “bespoke babies” by modifying eggs, embryos or sperm – changes that can be passed on to future generations.

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Much of the world took notice of CRISPR in 2018, when Chinese scientist He Jiankui revealed that he helped make the world’s first genetically modified babies to try and create resistance to infection with the AIDS virus. . His work was denounced as dangerous human experimentation, and he was sentenced to prison in China.

In September, an international panel of experts released a report saying it was too early to try such experiments because the science is not advanced enough to guarantee safety.

“Being able to selectively change genes means you’re playing God in a certain way,” said American Chemistry Society president Luis Echegoyen, professor of chemistry at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Dr George Daley, Dean of Harvard Medical School, said: “New technologies often present this dichotomy – there is immense potential for human benefit, especially for the treatment of disease, but also the risk of poor disease. application. ”

However, scientists have unanimously praised the great potential that gene editing has for patients today.

“There is no aspect of biomedical research that has not been impacted by CRISPR,” which has been used to improve crops and to try to cure human diseases, including sickle cell disease, HIV and hereditary forms of blindness, said Dr. Kiran Musunuru, a genetics expert at the University of Pennsylvania who researches heart disease.

Doudna said CRISPR also has the potential to be used to design factories to store more carbon or to withstand extremes of climate change, giving researchers a chance to “solve the pressing problems facing humanity.”

This is the fourth time in the 119-year history of prizes that a Nobel in science has been awarded exclusively to women.

Three times a woman has won a Nobel Prize in science by herself; this is the first time that an all-female team has won a science award. In 1911, Marie Curie was the only recipient of the chemistry prize, as was Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin in 1964. In 1983, Barbara McClintock won the Nobel Prize in medicine.

The Nobel comes with a gold medal and more than $ 1.1 million, thanks to a bequest left over a century ago by the creator of the prize, Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite .

On Monday, the Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded for the discovery of the hepatitis C virus which ravages the liver. Tuesday’s physics prize recognized breakthroughs in the understanding of black holes. The literature, peace and economy prizes will be awarded in the coming days.

Information for this article was provided by Frank Jordans and Seth Borenstein of The Associated Press.

FILE – In this file photo from December 1, 2015, Jennifer Doudna, a University of California, Berkeley, co-inventor of the CRISPR gene-editing tool that He Jiankui used, speaks at the international summit of the National Academy of Sciences on the Safety and Ethics of Human Gene Editing, Washington. The 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna “for the development of a method of genome editing”. A panel from the Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm made the announcement on Wednesday, October 7, 2020 (AP Photo / Susan Walsh, File)

FILE – In this file photo from May 19, 2015, French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier poses for a photo in Brunswick, Germany. French scientist Emmanuelle Charpentier and American Jennifer A. Doudna won the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry for having developed a method of genome editing similar to “molecular scissors” that offers the promise of one day curing genetic diseases. (Peter Steffen / dpa via AP)

FILE - This combined file image from Tuesday, December 1, 2015 shows Emmanuelle Charpentier, left, and Jennifer Doudna, both speaking at the National Academy of Sciences' International Summit on Safety and Ethics Publishing human genes, Washington.  The 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna

FILE – This combined file image from Tuesday, December 1, 2015 shows Emmanuelle Charpentier, left, and Jennifer Doudna, both speaking at the National Academy of Sciences’ International Summit on Safety and Ethics in publishing human genes, Washington. The 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna “for the development of a method of genome editing”. A panel from the Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm made the announcement on Wednesday, October 7, 2020 (AP Photo / Susan Walsh, File)

Professor Pernilla Wittung Stafshede, left, and Goran K. Hansson, Secretary General of the Academy of Sciences, after announcing the winners of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry at a press conference at the Royal Academy of Sciences in Sweden, in Stockholm, Sweden, Wednesday, October 7, 2020. The 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier, on the left on the screen, and Jennifer Doudna

Professor Pernilla Wittung Stafshede, left, and Goran K. Hansson, Secretary General of the Academy of Sciences, after announcing the winners of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry at a press conference at the Royal Academy of Sciences in Sweden, in Stockholm, Sweden, Wednesday, October 7, 2020. The 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier, on the left on the screen, and Jennifer Doudna “for the development of a method of genome editing” . (Henrik Montgomery / TT via AP)

French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier poses near a statue of Max Planck in Berlin, Germany on Wednesday, October 7, 2020. French scientist Emmanuelle Charpentier and American Jennifer A. Doudna won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing a method of editing the genome assimilated to

French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier poses near a statue of Max Planck in Berlin, Germany on Wednesday, October 7, 2020. French scientist Emmanuelle Charpentier and American Jennifer A. Doudna won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing a method of editing the genome assimilated to “molecular scissors” which offers the promise of one day curing genetic diseases. (AP Photo / Markus Schreiber)

FILE - In this file photo from March 14, 2016, French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier poses for a photo in Frankfurt, Germany.  French scientist Emmanuelle Charpentier and American Jennifer A. Doudna won the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry for having developed a method of genome editing similar to `` molecular scissors '' that offers the promise of one day curing diseases genetic.  (Alexander Heinl / dpa via AP)

FILE – In this file photo from March 14, 2016, French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier poses for a photo in Frankfurt, Germany. French scientist Emmanuelle Charpentier and American Jennifer A. Doudna won the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry for having developed a method of genome editing similar to “molecular scissors” that offers the promise of one day curing genetic diseases. (Alexander Heinl / dpa via AP)

FILE - In this March 14, 2016 file photo, American biochemist Jennifer A. Doudna, left, and French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier, right, pose for a photo in Frankfurt, Germany.  French scientist Emmanuelle Charpentier and American Jennifer A. Doudna won the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry for having developed a method of genome editing similar to `` molecular scissors '' that offers the promise of one day curing diseases genetics.  (Alexander Heinl / dpa via AP)

FILE – In this March 14, 2016 file photo, American biochemist Jennifer A. Doudna, left, and French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier, right, pose for a photo in Frankfurt, Germany. French scientist Emmanuelle Charpentier and American Jennifer A. Doudna won the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry for having developed a method of genome editing similar to “molecular scissors” that offers the promise of one day curing genetic diseases. (Alexander Heinl / dpa via AP)

French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier speaks to media in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, October 7, 2020. French scientist Emmanuelle Charpentier and American Jennifer A. Doudna won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing a method of 'genome editing equated to' molecular scissors that promise to one day cure genetic diseases.  (AP Photo / Markus Schreiber)

French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier speaks with media in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, October 7, 2020. French scientist Emmanuelle Charpentier and American Jennifer A. Doudna won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing a method of ‘genome editing equated to’ molecular scissors that promise to one day cure genetic diseases. (AP Photo / Markus Schreiber)

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