Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Scientists Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, awarded 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

IPL 13 is interesting ! ~ many are able to tell, who should be bowling when, whether a shot will carry over the ropes and how team should organize their chase …. .. in the same October month – most important news of Nobel Prize announcement also comes !  .. .. 

Of the many many things that we do not understand – Chemistry is one the disciplines that would top.  Chemistry deals   with elements and compounds composed of atoms, molecules and ions: their composition, structure, properties, behavior and the changes they undergo during a reaction with other substances.  In the scope of its subject, chemistry occupies an intermediate position between physics and biology.  It is sometimes called the central science because it provides a foundation for understanding both basic and applied scientific disciplines at a fundamental level.  Chemistry addresses topics such as how atoms and molecules interact via chemical bonds to form new chemical compounds. .. .. often one reads  of ‘perceived chemistry’ that exists between a favourite actor and actress!

To bemuse more – ‘Gene scissors’, molecular scalpel – these descriptive terms are intended to convey what the new method of gene editing with rather unwieldy name of CRISPR/Cas9 can do. As they suggest, the system, which, in its natural form, consists of two RNA molecules and one protein molecule, can cleave the hereditary molecule DNA. Moreover, it can do this with surgical precision at a specific site in the genome. This enables researchers to switch genes off or insert new sequences at the cutting site. As a result, DNA can be modified much faster and more easily than was possible using previous gene-editing methods.

[if you are able to understand the above para, just move on, I have only copy / pasted it – could not understand what this scissors is about !] While the applications for humans are stymied for now, Crispr-Cas9 is already being widely used in plant and microbial science. For example, it allows for the creation of drought or flood resistant crops and can help tackle antibiotic resistance.

Today’s post is dedicated to two women who join the most elite list of 5 others - Marie Curie 1911; Irène Joliot-Curie 1935;           Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin 1964; Ada Yonath 2009 & Frances H. Arnold 2018.  Today’s news is Scientists Emmanuelle Charpentier, 51, and Jennifer Doudna, 56, have won the 2020 Nobel prize in chemistry for the development of Crispr-Cas9, a powerful gene-editing tool. 

Crispr-Cas9 has already become one of the most widely used tools in the treatment and creation of therapeutics for hereditary diseases since its discovery. Initially, Professor Charpentier was investigating the immune system of a bacteria called Streptococcus pyogenes, when she stumbled across a previously unknown molecule, called tracrRNA. Further analysis revealed it was part of the bacteria's ancient immune system, called Crispr-Cas9.  This form of defence evolved naturally in the bacteria and takes on viruses by cleaving their DNA, rendering them harmless.  Dr Charpentier published her discovery in a scientific paper in 2011 and later started working with Professor Doudna, an RNA expert.

The goal of their partnership was to see if the process could be simplified and controlled. They achieved this and the next step for the pair was to try and reprogram the genetic scissors to allow researchers to cleave DNA with unprecedented accuracy. In 2012, they published a paper announcing they had achieved this, allowing them to select what pieces of DNA to remove.  They were able to use it to precisely in, animals, plants and microorganisms.

'Crispr-Cas9 has revolutionised basic science, and has become the first truly practical system for modify genes.' It has been likened to a pair of genetic scissors, allowing for tiny snippets of DNA to be removed and replaced.  The scope of Crispr-Cas9 is vast and has opened up various debates about whether it can be used ethically in humans. Critics say messing around with genes is akin to 'playing God' and could lead to 'designer babies', whereas advocates of the technology say it could allow for the eradication of hereditary disease such as cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia.  'There is enormous power in this genetic tool, which affects us all,' said Claes Gustafsson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.  Gusfafsson cautioned that the 'enormous power of this technology means we have to use it with great care' but that it 'is equally clear that this is a technology, a method that will provide humankind with great opportunities.'

Crispr-Cas9 has already been exploited by rogue scientist He Jiankui when he announced in late 2018 that he had used the tool to edit the genes of unborn twin girls to try to engineer resistance to future infection with the AIDS virus. His work was denounced worldwide as unsafe human experimentation and he was ostracised by the scientific community as outrage swelled from both experts and the public at large. Most of the concerns regarding the procedure centre around the long-term implications. Nobody knows how the genetic alterations will affect future generations  and if gene-edited people can still pass on faulty genes to their children.

For the moment, the two Scientists Emmanuelle Charpentier, 51, and Jennifer Doudna, 56, are basking in glory, having e won the 2020 Nobel prize in chemistry for the development of Crispr-Cas9, a powerful gene-editing tool.   

Only five women have previously won the Nobel prize in chemistry, despite the award first being handed out in 1901. Professors Doudna, from America, and Charpentier, from France, are the first women to share the prize. Speaking today at a virtual press conference, Professor Charpentier said: 'My wish is that this will provide a positive message to the young girls who would like to follow the path of science, and to show them that women in science can also have an impact through the research that they are performing.'  The two scientists will share the 10 million Swedish crown ($1.1 million/£864,200) prize.

In his last will and testament, Alfred Nobel specifically designated the institutions responsible for the prizes he wished to be established: The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for the Nobel Prize in Physics and Chemistry, Karolinska Institute for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, the Swedish Academy for the Nobel Prize in Literature, and a Committee of five persons to be elected by the Norwegian Parliament (Storting) for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1968, the Sveriges Riksbank established the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences was given the task to select the Laureates in Economic Sciences starting in 1969.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded 112 times to 186 Nobel Laureates between 1901 and 2020. Frederick Sanger is the only Nobel Laureate who has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry twice, in 1958 and 1980. This means that a total of 185 individuals have received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Click on the links to get more information.

Interesting !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

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