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article imageJennifer Doudna wins the ‘For Women in Science Award’

By Tim Sandle     Apr 1, 2016 in Science
Jennifer Doudna, who pioneered CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology, has been awarded the L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science Award in Paris.
The award to Dr. Jennifer Doudna was presented on March 24, at a special ceremony in France. Dr. Doudna is a professor in the department of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley. She also works as an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
CRISPR is an acronym for “Clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats.” It is a new genome editing tool which is transforming the field of biology. CRISPR acts like molecular scissors and it allows scientists to modify an organism’s DNA. CRISPR is based on a naturally-occurring defense mechanism found in a wide range of bacteria.
CRISPR is an aspect of a bacterium’s immune system. Here, parts of viruses that infect bacteria are retained within the bacterial genome so that bacterium can recognize and defend itself against such viruses in the future. CRISPRs are found in approximately 40 percent of sequenced bacteria genomes; and these form the basis of the new technology.
Dr. Doudna found that by using a protein called Cas9, the CRISPR approach couldbe simplified. Cas9 is an enzyme specialized for cutting DNA. With the technique, a Cas9 protein and appropriate guide RNAs can be delivered into a human cell; here, the genome can be cut at any desired location.
The potentials with the technology range from treating and curing rare genetic diseases to agricultural advances through the modification of food. The technology does carry some ethical concerns, such as germline editing. Here it could be possible to create a ‘designer baby’, through ensuring the baby has certain genetic traits. Such research is currently prohibited in the U.S. and Europe.
With the variant CRISPR-Cas9 technology, this has the potential to be used to repair mutations for key genetic diseases like sickle-cell anemia and other blood disorders. This is central to Dr. Doudna’s work and involves the introduction of the Cas9 protein and its guiding RNA into those affected cells to create the changes.
Interviewed by the website Bioscience Technology Dr. Doudna said her work with CRISPR will have the biggest impact. In the interview she charts her inspiration in becoming a scientist, from playing around with DNA double-helix models to her first use of an electron microscope.
With the microscope use, Jennifer Doudna said: “I was captivated by it – looked forward to going in every day. I was always thinking, ‘I’m going to uncover a mystery today!’”
Dr. Doudan is a remarkable scientist and good role model for women wishing to enter the scientific field. The prize is well deserved.
More about Jennifer Doudna, Science, women and science, Crispr, CRISPRCas9
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