By DAVID KEYTON, CHRISTINA LARSON and FRANK JORDANS
STOCKHOLM (AP) — Two scientists won the Nobel Prize in chemistry Wednesday for developing “molecular scissors” to edit genes, offering the promise of one day curing a host of inherited diseases.
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 alter the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms.
The award marked only the fourth time in the 119-year history of the prizes that a Nobel in the sciences was given exclusively to women.
Charpentier and Doudna’s work allows for laser-sharp snips in the long strings of DNA that make up the code of life, enabling scientists to precisely edit specific genes to remove errors that lead to diseases.
More than 100 clinical trials are underway to study using CRISPR to treat diseases, and “many are very promising,” according to Victor Dzau, president of the National Academy of Medicine.
“My greatest hope is that it’s used for good, to uncover new mysteries in biology and to benefit humankind,” said Doudna, who is affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley, and is paid by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which also supports The Associated Press’ Health and Science Department.
The prize-winning work has opened the door to some thorny ethical issues: When editing is done after birth, the alterations are confined to that person. Scientists fear CRISPR will be misused to make “designer babies” by altering eggs, embryos or sperm — changes that can be passed on to future generations.
Much of the world became aware of CRISPR in 2018, when Chinese scientist He Jiankui revealed he had helped make the world’s first gene-edited babies, to try to engineer resistance to infection with the AIDS virus. He got sentenced to prison in China and his work was denounced as unsafe human experimentation
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