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CRISPR, the revolutionary genetic "scissors," honored by Chemistry Nobel

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to the two scientists who transformed an obscure bacterial immune mechanism, commonly called CRISPR, into a tool that can simply and cheaply edit the genomes of everything from wheat to mosquitoes to humans.

The award went jointly to Dr Emmanuelle Charpentier of Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens and Dr Jennifer A. Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, "for the development of a method for genome editing."

The Nobel committee did not include Dr Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute, USA who led the work that resulted in the first published evidence that CRISPR could edit DNA in mammalian cells. The institutions of the three scientists are locked in a fierce patent battle over who deserves the intellectual property rights to CRISPR's discovery, which some estimate could be worth billions of dollars.

"The ability to cut DNA where you want has revolutionised the life sciences. The genetic scissors were discovered 8 years ago, but have already benefited humankind greatly," said Dr Pernilla Wittung Stafshede, a chemical biologist at Chalmers University of Technology, at the prize briefing.

CRISPR allowed scientists to easily and quickly make changes in DNA. It was also used in one of the controversial biomedical experiments of the past decade, when a Chinese scientist edited the genomes of human embryos, resulting in the birth of three babies with altered genes. He was widely condemned and eventually sentenced to jail in China.

(Courtesy: Science magazine, American Association for the Advancement of Sciences)

The award went jointly to Dr Emmanuelle Charpentier of Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens and Dr Jennifer A. Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, "for the development of a method for genome editing."

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