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The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was jointly awarded on Wednesday to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna for their 2012 work on Crispr-Cas9, a method to edit DNA.
The announcement marks the first time the award has gone to two women. “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.
Genome editing is one aspect of gene therapy. Established approaches to gene therapy have been based on the results of extensive prior laboratory research on individual cells and on non-human organisms, establishing the means to add, delete, or modify genes in living organisms.
In the nucleus of a cell, there are Chromatin Threads consisting of genes. Adenine (A) is double bonded to Thymine (T), while Cytosine (C) is triple bonded to Guanine (G). The two strands are held together by hydrogen bonds between the bases. Everything in an individual’s body is predefined by the precise location of those compounds in a gene. By Genome editing, those locations can be changed in Nucleus to get wanted results or characteristics in an individual. “This technology has utterly transformed the way we do research in basic science,” said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. Doctors are testing it as a cure for genetic disorders such as Sickle Cell Disease and Hereditary Blindness. Plant scientists are using it to create new crops without having cross-reproduction as well.
Crispr has also become one of the most controversial developments in science because of its potential to alter human heredity. In 2018, He Jiankui, a Chinese scientist, announced that he had used the technology to edit genes of human embryos, which yielded the world’s first genetically modified infants. However, Dr. Jiankui’s experiments were decried by many in the scientific committees as irresponsible and dangerous. “There is enormous power in this genetic tool which affects us all”, said Class Gustaffson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.
Dr. Charpentier and her colleagues have also started to work on editing DNA of a bacteria which could attack viruses. Genome editing is still under the hands of authorised committees due to ethical issues. But still, it appears that these discoveries are going to revolutionize the human genome in the future.
ARTICLE: PATEL CHAITANYA
SCIENCE/HEALTH EDITOR: KYLE SMITH