2017 Japan Prize winners Jennifer Doudna, Ph.D., (left) and Emmanuelle Charpentier, Ph.D., (right). [WikiCommons]
2017 Japan Prize winners Jennifer Doudna, Ph.D., (left) and Emmanuelle Charpentier, Ph.D., (right). [WikiCommons]

The impact that the genome-editing tool CRISPR/Cas9 has had on life science research is almost immeasurable, as the number of research projects utilizing the cutting-edge molecular technique has exploded since its initial description as a molecular method in a Science paper in 2012. While the fate of patent rights for CRISPR/Cas9 are currently in the hands of the federal courts, there is no question of the contribution that Emmanuelle Charpentier, Ph.D., director at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, and Jennifer Doudna, Ph.D., professor of chemistry and of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley, have made to the development of the revolutionary DNA-editing tool.

Now, in connection with its deep commitment toward honoring the most innovative and meaningful advances worldwide, The Japan Prize Foundation announced the laureates of the 2017 Japan Prize, which honors those who have pushed the envelope in their respective fields of life sciences and electronics, information, and communication. Three scientists are being recognized with the 2017 Japan Prize for original and outstanding achievements that not only contribute to the advancement of science and technology but also promote peace and prosperity for humanity.

Drs. Doudna and Charpentier are being honored for deciphering the molecular details of the type II bacterial immune system CRISPR—which stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats—and the creation of the CRISPR/Cas9 genome-editing system, a truly revolutionary technique in genetic engineering, far more economical and faster than those previously available.

CRISPR/Cas9 allows scientists to cut the DNA of almost any organism at arbitrary locations and edit freely by means of removing, replacing, or insertion. Originally adopted as a research tool in the life sciences, the technique is now being applied to a wide range of fields, such as agriculture, biofuels, drug development, and medicine. In the future, scientists are optimistic that the gene-editing tool will be readily employed to correct mutations at precise locations in the human genome to treat and cure genetic causes of disease.

The Japan Prize is awarded to scientists and researchers, regardless of nationality. While the prize encompasses all fields of science, two fields are designated for the Japan Prize each year. Since its inception in 1985, the Japan Prize Foundation has awarded the Japan Prize to 86 laureates from 13 countries. Drs. Charpentier and Doudna share their award with Adi Shamir, Ph.D., professor of computer science at the Weizmann Institute, Israel, for his innovative work in cryptology.

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