Two women awarded the Nobel Chemistry Prize

It was about time that the Nobel Prize committees would become more aware of the great accomplishment of women scientists in so many disciplines that have made a crucial difference for the Human Welfare. Even though Marie Curie, née Sklodowska, was one of the early recipients of the prestigious award in Physics, she had to share it with two men. In 1903, the Nobel Committee awarded half the prize in Physics to Antoine Henri Becquerel “in recognition of the extraordinary services he has rendered by his discovery of spontaneous radioactivity” and the other half to the Pierre and Marie Curie “in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel.”

On October 7, 2020, Sharon Begley and Elizabeth Coney announced in a Stats article that: “the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences…awarded the Nobel prize in Chemistry to American biochemist Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, and French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, for their 2012 discovery that a bacterial immune system called CRISPR can be repurposed to edit DNA, the molecule of heredity.” Dr. Charpentier was surprised that for the first time two women shared the prize, which would send a clear message to young girls that science might be for them too.

In a seminal 1992 Science article, Martin Jinek et al (including Drs. Doudna and Charpentier) exposed the RNA-mediated defensive mechanism of bacteria called Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, whose acronym is CRISPR. This defensive mechanism is based on the engagement of the bacterial cas genes organized in operon(s) and CRISP array(s) that consist of genome-targeting sequences (spacers) It is based on three steps:

  1. Reacting to viral threat, bacteria integrate short fragments of foreign sequence (protospacers) into the host chromosome at the proximal end of CRISPR.
  2. The transcription of the repeat-spacer element of CRISP RNA is followed by the enzymatic cleavage that produce short crRNAs.
  3. Those crRNAs target the foreign viral sequences of DNAs, disabling them.

They said: “the Cas9 endonuclease can be programmed with guide RNA engineered as a single transcript to target and cleave any dsDNA sequence of interest.” Cas9, a bacterial enzyme, could be paired with the bespoke CRISPR-related RNAs in order to target any site of the viral DNA molecule to disable the virus infectivity. This technique might eventually allow for the careful design of better targeted and much safer genetic therapies for the treatment of grave diseases of human beings.

We might be the beneficiaries of this novel technique in future clinical protocols.

Note. The featured image was taken from Wikimedia Commons.

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