Wolf Prize Laureate in Medicine 2020
Affiliation at the time of the award:
The Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens, Germany
"for deciphering and repurposing the bacterial CRISPR/Cas9 immune system for genome editing."
Emmanuelle Charpentier (Born 1968) is a French biochemist, microbiologist and geneticist that is recognized as a world-leading expert in regulatory mechanisms underlying processes of infection and immunity in bacterial pathogens.
Together with Jennifer Doudna, led the discovery of the revolutionary gene-editing tool, CRISPR. They used this existing defense mechanism in bacteria to turn CRISPR-Cas9 into a real tool for cleaving the DNA of bacterial and also human cells. These “genetic scissors” can be used for targeting any gene in a cell in order to modify it. With this revolutionary technology, it is much easier to modify gene expression, to switch a gene “on” or “off,” or to change, repair, or remove genes. This new tool is now used in molecular biology laboratories around the world and has the potential to revolutionize medicine by paving the way to finding new forms of treatment for currently incurable diseases.
Charpentier studied biochemistry, microbiology and genetics at the University Pierre and Marie Curie, Paris, France and obtained her Ph.D. in Microbiology for her research performed at the Pasteur Institute, Paris, France. She then continued her work in the US, at The Rockefeller University, New York University Langone Medical Center and the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine (all in New York) and at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (in Memphis). Charpentier returned to Europe to establish her own research group as Associate Professor at The University of Vienna in Austria. She was then appointed Associate Professor at The Laboratory for Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden at Umeå University in Sweden where she habilitated in the field of Medical Microbiology. Between 2013 -2015, Charpentier was Head of the Department of Regulation in Infection Biology at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research, Braunschweig, and Professor at the Medical School of Hannover in Germany. In 2013, she was awarded an Alexander von Humboldt Professorship. In 2015, she was appointed Scientific Member of the Max Planck Society. From 2015 to 2018, Charpentier was Director of the Department of Regulation in Infection Biology at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, Germany. Since 2018, she is Scientific and Managing Director of the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens in Berlin, an institute that she founded together with the Max Planck Society.
The bacterial CRISPR-Cas9 system is based on an immune-like defense mechanism of action that bacteria used to protect themselves from viruses. The genome editing technique resulting from their findings immediately allowed researchers to target and cut DNA with great precision and has therefore improved the speed, efficiency and flexibility of genome editing at an unprecedented speed and ease. This new understanding already enables world-wide researchers to rapidly model human disease genes in the laboratory, accelerating the search for new drug leads and opening new doors for the treatment of human genetic disorders. These same features also call for extreme care in employing this novel technology, highlighting the need for continuous exchange of information between research scientists and policy makers for avoiding the risks involved in careless use of these unprecedented research tools.
Emmanuelle Charpentier is awarded the Wolf Prize for engaging her experties in bacterial pathogens for deciphering and repurposing the bacterial CRISPR/Cas9 immune system and its pathogen defense role for genome editing which enables its use in all live organisms on earth.