select search filters
roundups & rapid reactions
before the headlines
Fiona fox's blog

expert reaction to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna being awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry

The 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded jointly to Prof Emmanuelle Charpentier and Prof Jennifer Doudna for the development of the CRISPR method for genome editing.


Prof Robin Lovell-Badge FRS FMedSci, Group Leader, The Francis Crick Institute, said:

 “The Nobel Prize to Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier is fabulous news and very much deserved. Their work has shaken up the world in many ways, hopefully all for the good!

“CRISPR has greatly changed the way my lab, and many others, work, making genetics faster, simpler and even more enjoyable. This is a fantastic achievement, and a historical moment as this is the first time two women have solely won the Nobel prize for Chemistry.”

“CRISPR has already revolutionised research. It’s now beginning to revolutionise healthcare, agriculture and biotechnology. Indeed, it is likely to do so for every field it touches.”


Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, & formerly Professor of Plant Development at the University of Cambridge and Director of its Sainsbury Laboratory, said:

“Many congratulations to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna for winning this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry for genome editing methods.

“This work is a beautiful illustration of serendipity. Studying an apparently obscure immunity system in bacteria has provided a transformative technology with applications right across the biosciences and bioeconomy.”


Prof Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz FMedSci, Professor of Mammalian Development and Stem Cell Biology, University of Cambridge, said:

“Long-awaited and totally deserved award for the discovery of a system that has revolutionized 21st century genetics. There were 5 female laureate in Chemistry until today, now 40% more.”


Prof Ewan Birney, Director, European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), said:

“This is great – and much anticipated news. CRISPR/Cas9 has been a truly remarkable discovery and this shows the importance of how curiosity driven science changes the world.” 


Professor Sir Robert Lechler PMedSci, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences said,

“I am delighted by the news that Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A Doudna have been awarded the 2020 Nobel prize in chemistry for the discovery of CRISPR.

“Genome editing is revolutionising biomedical research and the discovery of new medicines with huge potential for the future health of patients. Thanks to the work of these two world leading scientists we are starting to understand the role of genes in biology and disease and laying the foundations for developing targeted medicines for genetic conditions.

“Their work has not just impacted on scientific breakthroughs, it has prompted wider debate where scientists, patients and members of the public are coming together to understand how genome editing tools should be used for the benefit of all.”


Dr Helen O’Neill, Lecturer in Reproductive and Molecular Genetics, University College London, said:

“All discoveries are stacked upon the shoulders of many giants, but this award is in recognition of the key players that gave these discoveries relevance. Professors Doudna and Charpentier were the first to apply this system and turn it into a ground breaking tool. CRISPR genome editing has been a gift to all disciplines of science, medicine and agriculture. The discovery that an innate biological system could be harnessed across all areas of biomedicine has and will continue to impact the lives of millions. A well-deserved award for both scientists.”


Dr Mark Downs, Chief Executive of the royal Society of Biology said,

“This is a wonderful recognition of the contribution that Doudna’s and Charpentier’s discoveries have made to understanding and harnessing the chemistry of life. They have created unprecedented opportunities for discovery and innovation and are thoughtful contributors to the international and public discussions about how and where science knowledge can be beneficial”


Mr Julian Hitchcock, Of Counsel, Bristows LLP, said:

“It’s thrilling to learn that Emmanuelle Charpentier and her US counterpart Jennifer Doudna have been awarded this year’s Chemistry Prize for the development of CRISPR, especially given the Nobel Committee’s dismal record of recognising women scientists.  An award so against the odds is testament to the impact of their work, and should alert those in government to the fact that the law is still limping along behind it.”


Prof Andrew Sharrocks, Professor of Molecular Biology, University of Manchester, said:

“In terms of technological breakthroughs this ranks among the most impactful in the field of Biomedical research. CRISPR-related technologies arguably rank alongside PCR in moving science forward in a large jump rather than incremental steps. The work that Doudna and Charpentier performed provided the basis for the multitude of different CRISPR-based techniques that have been developed in recent years ranging from classical genome engineering through to visualisation of biomolecules in cells and a suite of applications in medical diagnostics and treatments. CRISPR has already made a major impact and in the future promises to multiply this up many fold as researchers continue to exploit this approach.”


Dr James Turner, group leader of the Sex Chromosome Biology Laboratory at the Francis Crick Institute, said:

“This award recognises Charpentier and Doudna’s extraordinary contribution to molecular biology and is a triumph for women in science. Thanks to their discoveries, genetic modification experiments that previously took us years to complete can be achieved within weeks. As a result, the pace of biological discovery has increased to levels we never previously thought possible”.


Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, said:

“On behalf of the Royal Society, I would like to offer my warm congratulations to Professors Doudna and Charpentier. CRISPR/Cas9 has been part of researchers’ toolkit for less than a decade, but in this time it has transformed the life sciences beyond recognition.

“The story of CRISPR/Cas9 shows us how following the thread of basic science can eventually set off a revolution decades later. In this case, unearthing a quirk of the bacterial immune system led to deciphering its mechanism and the development of a tool to efficiently and precisely edit any section of the human genome. Serendipity, inspiration and collaboration all played a part. The full applications of gene editing, for human health, agriculture, conservation are only just beginning to be realised, and I fully expect this powerful technology to continue to change these fields in the coming decades.

“We must also recognise that the development of CRIPSR/Cas9 as a tool for genome editing also raises significant questions for scientists and society at large.  A report by the International Commission on Human Germline Genome Editing, convened by the Society and US National Academies, made clear they are not ready to be used to make heritable changes in humans.  The implications for individuals and societies will need to be discussed and regulated at both a national and international level.”


Prof Waseem Qasim, NIHR Professor in Cell & Gene Therapy, Institute of Child Health & Great Ormond Street Hospital, said:

“The discovery in 2012 that CRISPR/Cas9 can be adapted for the purposes of editing genes, including in human cells, has been game-changer for medical researchers. The technology has been rapidly disseminated and made accessible worldwide. Some of the first therapies using these technologies are now being piloted, including the use of white blood cells modified using CRISPR to treat cancer.”


Dr Alena Pance, Senior Staff Scientist, The Wellcome Sanger Institute, said:

“It is fantastic that the development of CRISPR has been given the fundamental importance it has as a tool that has transformed molecular biology and revolutionised genome editing. The impact this technology is already having on research and medicine is astounding. It is a historic moment that for the first time the Nobel Prize of Chemistry is awarded to two women, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier.

“This only happened once before, when the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine was awarded to Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider in 2009, for the discovery of the role of telomerases in protecting chromosome telomeres.

“It should be noted that this years’ Nobel Prize of Physics was also awarded to a woman, Andrea Ghez, who is the 4th woman in history to receive the Physics Prize.

“It is an absolute pleasure to see two very accomplished women to receive the highest Prize in science.”


Prof Adrian Liston, a senior group leader at the Babraham Institute, said:

“This is a well-deserved recognition of one of the seminal breakthroughs in biology of the last several decades. This award recognises elegant basic biological experiments that identified a novel immune mechanism that bacteria use to fight off viruses. The key insight is that the chemistry of this system allowed simple modifications to rewire this bacterial system into a tool to edit the genome of essentially any living being. A striking example of blue-skies research on basic science having an incredible translational effect. The CrispR system ranks up there with identifying the structure of DNA or the sequencing of the human genome – indeed, for the first time it allows us to really use the information gained by these earlier revolutions. CrispR tools are used daily across the globe to create new vaccines, generate gene therapy, design bacteria to help industrial processes. Essentially, the discovery of CrispR as a genome-modification tool has put biology on steroids – dramatically accelerating the pace of both basic research and translational applications”.


Prof Luke Alphey, Head of the Arthopod Genetics Group, The Pirbright Institute, said:

“CRISPR/Cas has become extremely widely used due to its versatility and precision. At The Pirbright Institute, we use it to modify mosquito genomes for basic science – to understand the insects better, and for applied purposes to try to reduce their ability to transmit diseases.  One exciting possibility is to use the system to propagate beneficial changes within mosquito populations, so-called “gene drives”, which the Institute and others are investigating with careful lab studies before any potential field use.  It may also be possible to use CRISPR/Cas to target the genomes of viruses in infected cells, including in infected mosquito cells.”


Prof Kathy Niakan, Group Leader of the Human Embryo and Stem Cell Laboratory at the Francis Crick Institute and Professor of Reproductive Physiology at the University of Cambridge, said:

“This is brilliant news and well-deserved recognition for their outstanding achievements. The tremendous impact of their discovery has been immediately wide-reaching across multiple fields, from agriculture to human health.

“This announcement underscores the potential of this technology. If the UK can capitalise on this technology, with the advantage of UK’s regulatory rigour and scientific strengths, then it could be an international powerhouse in driving future scientific innovations.”


Dr Zoë Waller, Associate Professor in Drug Discovery at UCL School of Pharmacy: said

“I am really pleased that the CRISPR/Cas9 has secured this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Although it is a relatively new discovery, the impact of this on both science and medicine has already been substantial. Many congratulations to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna. It is richly deserved. Not only does this award recognise an exceptional discovery, but it also provides a spotlight on two excellent women role models in STEM.”


Dr Hagan Bayley, Professor of Chemical Biology at the University of Oxford said:

“Genome editing is so clearly deserving of a Nobel Prize. And the CRISPR/Cas system can do much more of considerable interest to chemists, including precise double-strand and single-strand cuts in DNA in the test-tube and the pinpointing of variations in DNA sequence and structure with fluorescent reagents. A splendid award!” 


Dr Laura Blackburn, Head of Science, PHG Foundation, said:

“It is very exciting to see the award of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for CRISPR genome editing. This technology is having an ongoing impact on scientific research and also on the development of novel therapies for rare, life-limiting and hard to treat conditions such as the blood disorders beta-thalassemia and sickle cell disease, retinal disorders and metabolic disorders. As research and clinical trials in these areas continue, we are likely to see improvements in therapy development, collection of data on long-term efficacy of these approaches, and a consideration of the ethical and regulatory challenges to support future use of this technology.”


Dr Philippa Brice, External Affairs Director, PHG Foundation, said:

“This is fantastic news, Doudna and Charpentier’s work has raised a host of bioethical challenges, but also incredible opportunities to understand and alleviate disease through ground-breaking scientific discovery in genomics.”


Professor Paul Workman, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said:

“The fact that this award has come so soon after the discovery of CRISPR/Cas9 as a tool for genome editing speaks to the huge impact of this super powerful technology on biological and biomedical sciences. It is revolutionising what we all do every day in the lab – with huge benefits for understanding basic biological mechanisms and disease processes. The medical benefits are tremendous. This prize is very well deserved and I heartily congratulate the winners.”


Prof Jane Grasby, from the University of Sheffield, said:

“This is brilliant news for nucleic acid chemistry and women in Science. Jennifer Doudna has done fantastic ground breaking work at the interface of Chemistry and Biology on the structural biology of RNAs. Her work is very much grounded in curiosity driven research but led amongst other things to great advances in the field of CRISPR RNAs.

“In turn these advances have allowed the development of genetic scissors that have not only impacted on the ways we study genes and their functions, but also have great promise in diverse fields from medicine to agriculture. This is a great award for women in science as Jennifer is such a fantastic role model, but also speaks to the defence of basic scientific discovery and its vital role in society and the economy.”


Prof Tom Brown, Professor of Nucleic Acid Chemistry, Departments of Chemistry and Oncology, Oxford University, said:

“The recent discovery of CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing, stemming from curiosity-driven research on a bacterial immune system, has rapidly provided a tremendously powerful and important set of molecular genetic tools. CRISPR has revolutionised basic science, and has become the first truly practical system for modify genes.

“Given the universality of the genetic code this is a hugely important advance that is now being used to remove, add, modify the DNA sequence in the genome of any organism. In a very short time it has impacted on medicine, agriculture and many other diverse applications, and many other major advances are certain to arise.

“Chemists have already synthesised chemically modified CRISPR RNA and this is leading to improved artificial systems and chimeric systems that can perform addition functions in order to better control gene expression.”


Dr Yalda Jamshidi, Reader in Genomic Medicine, St George’s, University of London, said:

“Congratulations to Prof Charpentier and Prof Doudna who have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. By realising the potential of Crispr-Cas9 for genome editing they have revolutionised biology and medicine. This ground-breaking technology has already changed the research landscape, allowing researchers to change the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms, with great precision, and has led to renewed efforts to develop therapies for many human diseases. I look forward to seeing the results from the first clinical trials already testing CRISPR-Cas9 as a treatment for diseases including cancer, blood, and eye disorders. Although still in the very early stages of testing, the potential impact for patients is huge.”


Prof Douglas Kell, Professor Systems Biology, University of Liverpool, said:

“Completely well deserved. It is an utterly transformative technology. Most of the focus will be on medicine, but using CRISPR/Cas-type technologies to produce productive and safe microbes for industrial biotechnology and the sustainable BioEconomy is in many ways likely to be even bigger.”


Dr Christophe Galichet, Senior Laboratory Research Scientist, The Francis Crick Institute, said:

“The use of CRISPR has revolutionised science.  Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier were pioneers in understanding the role of the CRISPR system.  Their works have been instrumental for the use of CRISPR in all aspects of life science.

“CRISPR/Cas system allows to generate genomic alteration at a desired location.  What is incredible with the system is the specificity of targeting the genome (it could be compared to an excellent GPS) and its ability to generate genomic alteration at a rate never seen before.

“Now CRISPR is used for generating genomic alteration in any cells and in any organisms.

“It is a fantastic news to hear that two brilliant women have been awarded the prestigious Nobel prize.”


Dr Matthew Child, Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London:

“This highly deserved Nobel Prize has been awarded in recognition of the work of Doudna and Charpentier defining the rules for how the CRISPR-Cas9 system works. They distilled system into its core components, providing a conceptual framework for the very precise editing of DNA using a simple modular approach. Reflecting this elegant simplicity, CRISPR-based tools have since been successfully used in most biological systems. The application and translation of their findings has accelerated our basic understanding of biological systems, aided drug discovery and design, and enabled genome engineering at a scale not previously realized with unprecedented speed. We are only just beginning to harness the system for the benefits of human health, and so the future prospects for this discovery are extremely exciting.”


Prof Jessica Downs, Deputy Head of the Division of Cancer Biology, The Institute of Cancer Research, and Co-Chair of the Athena SWAN steering group at the ICR, said:

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that the technology that arose from Doudna and Charpentier’s discoveries has revolutionised the field. We adopted the technology in our lab to investigate molecular changes that lead to cancer development. It’s been transformative in terms of what we can achieve, but there is also great potential for using this technology in the clinic. And on a more personal level, it’s inspiring and uplifting to see two women honoured for their work in this way.”


Prof Matthew Cobb, Professor of Zoology, University of Manchester, said:

“In the last decade, CRISPR has transformed basic science, and will soon transform medicine. This is a much deserved prize to two brilliant women who instantly realised that what seemed to many like a quirky discovery – bacteria have a kind of immune system – could be harnessed as an incredibly powerful tool. A reminder, too of the importance of basic science: the existence and function of CRISPR sequences was explored by microbiologists from the late 1980s onwards, in particular by Francisco Mojica, of Alicante.”


Fiona Watt, MRC Executive Chair, said: 

“Many congratulations to  Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna. Their work is a great example of how discovery science underpins major improvements in human health. CRISPR/Cas genes are part of the bacterial immune system, yet they are now being applied to correct genes in a number of devastating human diseases such as muscular dystrophy.” 


Prof Sir Mark Caulfield, Chief Scientist at Genomics England, said:

“I am particularly delighted that this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry recognises two women pioneers of gene editing, which is already yielding amazing new biological insights and may pave the way for potential therapies.”


Professor Chris Lord, Deputy Director of the Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said:

“The fundamental discovery for which the Nobel Prize for Chemistry has been awarded, is already having significant impact for those of us with research interests around how to better treat people with cancer.

“Our everyday experiments mean that we have to manipulate genes, and the CRISPR-Cas9 system has allowed us to do this in far simpler and more effective ways. Furthermore, there are already a number of scientists assessing the potential of whether the CRISPR-Cas9 system could be used to treat diseases such as cancer, where we know defects in DNA are a cause.”


Sarah Norcross, Director of the Progress Educational Trust, said:

From the laboratory to the clinic and beyond, the CRISPR approach to genome editing is now invaluable. Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna deserve this accolade for their pioneering work.

“By taking a natural phenomenon from single-celled organisms (where CRISPR defends against viruses), and adapting it for deliberate use in multi-celled organisms (such as humans), Charpentier and Doudna devised an unprecedentedly powerful and precise means of changing DNA sequences in living cells.

“There is still vast potential for CRISPR to bring further benefit to humanity, provided that it is used in diligent and well-regulated way.”


Prof Tom Welton, President of the Royal Society of Chemistry said:

“Congratulations to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, whose Nobel recognition is hugely deserved, not least considering how transformative their CRISPR discoveries are already proving.

“The ability to edit genes provides an incredible toolkit for scientific research that will benefit humankind for generations to come, from fighting and preventing diseases to feeding our growing global population.

“I am also hugely pleased to see that the Nobel committee has chosen to honour two leading women in active research – their teamwork is an example of how scientific breakthroughs are based on a truly global community of researchers and they can become role models for aspiring scientists of all genders.”


Prof Ali Tavassoli, Professor of Chemical Biology Chemistry, University of Southampton, said:

“It is good to see the Nobel committee recognise the significance and importance of this relatively recent discovery; there is tremendous potential for CRISPR to alter our approach to treating genetic disorders and disease.

“The technique has been widely adopted and used by a large number of laboratories around the world and has made important indirect contributions to multiple scientific advances. It should also be noted that this work arose from ‘blue skies’ research, highlighting the importance of scientific research that may not immediately have an application”.


Prof Simon Waddington, Professor of Gene Therapy, University College London, said:

“The biological significance of their work, and the enormous efforts of many other scientists in the field of genome editing, cannot be overstated. Genome editing was in its infancy in the 1980s but the tools that were available even until the 2000s were highly specialist. CRISPR truly democratised genome editing, making it accessible to a multitude of scientists across many fields of biology, from plant research to diagnostics to biomedical research in cancer, rare diseases and so many other areas. Further still, the work of Doudna, Charpentier and others in CRISPR elevated genetic research into the public consciousness and has provoked an intense and deep debate about our relationship with our own genetics, and the genetics of the panoply of every other living creature.”


Dr John Parrington, Lecturer in Cellular & Molecular Pharmacology, University of Oxford, said:

“I think this is very well deserved indeed. CRISPR/Cas genome editing is a revolutionary technology that has made it possible for the first time in history to precisely edit the genomes of living cells of practically any species. It is already having a major impact on biomedical research, clinical medicine, and agriculture and indeed society as a whole. It has immense potential to transform our lives for the better but also raises many ethical and socio-political questions.

“In fact a number of other scientists have made important contributions to this discovery, but there is no doubt that Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier played a key role in understanding the mechanism of CRISPR/Cas in bacteria and how it might be developed as a genome editing tool.

“I particularly welcome the award of this prize to two outstanding women scientists and I hope this serves as a stimulus for more women to be inspired to seek careers in the field of science and technology.”


Declarations of interest:

Prof Kathy Niakan: The Niakan laboratory uses CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing to understand gene function in human embryos.

None others received

in this section

filter RoundUps by year

search by tag