The work: In 2012 Dr. Charpentier and Dr. Doudna published the description of a revolutionary new genome editing technology that uses an engineered single-guide RNA together with the DNA-cleaving enzyme Cas9 to readily manipulate the genomic DNA of individual cells. The CRISPR-Cas9 technology has given biologists the equivalent of a molecular surgery kit for routinely disabling, activating or altering genes with high efficiency and precision. Their collective work has led to the breakthrough discovery of DNA cleavage by Cas9, a dual RNA- guided enzyme whose ability to cut double-stranded DNA can be programmed by changing the guide RNA sequence. Recognizing that such an activity could be employed as a molecular tool for precision genome engineering in various kinds of cells, their teams redesigned the natural dual-RNA guide as a single-guide RNA (sgRNA), creating an easy-to-use two component system.
The impact: This technology is transforming the fields of molecular genetics, genomics, agriculture and environmental biology. RNA-guided Cas9 complexes are effective genome engineering agents in animals, plants, fungi and bacteria. The CRISPR-Cas9 technology is being used in thousands of laboratories around the world to advance biological research by engineering cells and organisms in precise ways.
Jennifer Doudna is the Li Ka Shing Chancellor’s Chair in Biomedical and Health Sciences and she is Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology and Professor of Chemistry at UC Berkeley and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Prof. Doudna’s research seeks to understand how RNA molecules control the expression of genetic information in cells. Her research led to insights about CRISPR-Cas9-mediated bacterial immunity that enabled her lab along with collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier to harness this system for efficient genome engineering in animals and plants, creating a transformative technology that is revolutionizing the fields of genetics, molecular biology and medicine. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Inventors. She is also a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Society for Microbiology. Dr. Doudna is a recipient of awards including the NSF Waterman Award, the FNIH Lurie Prize, the Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research, the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the Princess of Asturias Award (Spain), the Gruber Prize in Genetics, the Massry Prize and the L’Oreal-UNESCO International Prize for Women in Science. Dr. Doudna has been named as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world (2015) and as one of Foreign Policy’s leading global thinkers (2014). Dr. Doudna is a founder and the executive director of the Innovative Genomics Institute at UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco.