By Christina Larson and Frank Jordans
TWO scientists won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry on Wednesday for developing a method of genome editing likened to “molecular scissors” that offer promise of one day curing inherited diseases and even cancer. Working on opposite sides of the Atlantic, Frenchwoman Emmanuelle Charpentier and American Jennifer A Doudna developed a method known as CRISPR/Cas9 that can be used to change the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms with extremely high precision.
“There is enormous power in this genetic tool, which affects us all,” said Claes Gustafsson, chair of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry. “It has not only revolutionised basic science, but also resulted in innovative crops and will lead to groundbreaking new medical treatments.” Gustafsson said that, as a result, any genome can now be edited “to fix genetic damage,” adding that the tool “will provide humankind with great opportunities.” But he cautioned that the “enormous power of this technology means we have to use it with great care.”
It has already raised serious ethical questions in the scientific community. Most of the world became more aware of CRISPR in 2018, when Chinese scientist Dr He Jiankui revealed he had helped make the world’s first gene-edited babies, to try to engineer resistance to future infection with the AIDS virus.