MCB-awardee receives Nobel Prize in Chemistry

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) joins the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the scientific community in congratulating Dr. Jennifer Doudna and Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier on their 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The two were awarded the prize jointly “for the development of a method for genome editing.” A little over a decade ago, MCB awarded Dr. Doudna the first in a series of grants to explore Mechanisms of Acquired Immunity in Bacteria (MCB 1244557).  “It is wonderful to see the fruits of Dr. Doudna’s work, initially enabled by NSF investment in discovery-driven research, which is reaping many societal benefits” said Dr. Basil Nikolau, MCB Division Director. 

“CRISPR-Cas9 is opening new worlds of possibility in fields as wide-ranging as bioengineering, medicine, agriculture, and biomanufacturing. Researchers are still working to understand the full potential of this important tool,” said National Science Foundation Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “The teams behind this groundbreaking discovery have uncovered and developed fundamental science that will result in decades’ worth of applications. NSF has long supported the discovery-driven research of Dr. Jennifer Doudna and her lab with grants, including our prestigious Alan T. Waterman award. We congratulate her and Emmanuelle Charpentier and join the rest of the world in waiting to see what CRISPR produces next,” said Dr. Panchanathan in a news release.

Jennifer Doudna featured as Influential Scientist in Time Magazine

Time Magazine recently published the “Time 100“, a list of influential leaders in their respective fields. We are pleased to report that MCB-funded investigator Jennifer Doudna was included as an influential scientist for her transformative research to develop gene editing technology.

Dr. Doudna , along with colleagues and collaborators, developed a now widely used genome editing tool known as the CRISPR-Cas1 system.  This invention emerged from Dr. Doudna’s interest in learning how an apparent bacterial adaptive immune system functions on a molecular level that is capable of protecting bacteria from deleterious foreign nucleic acids, including those delivered by bacteriophages. She and others found that CRISPR sequences represent a form of “memory” resulting from previous exposure to foreign DNAs and showed that fragments of these exogenous DNAs are integrated into the CRISPR array. Upon phage invasion, the CRISPR sequence is transcribed, together with a down-stream cas gene that encodes an endonuclease, such as Cas9 in Streptococcus pyogenes. The long, non-coding pre-CRISPR RNA (pre-crRNA) transcript is then processed, producing multiple different crRNAs. The crRNAs form a hybrid to a second CRISPR-encoded RNA called transactivating CRISPR RNA (tracrRNA), which has regions of complementarity to the various crRNAs. These RNA hybrid oligomers associate with the endonuclease and serve as a guide to target newly invading nucleic acids. Recognition of the foreign DNA triggers precise double-stranded cleavage, leading to complete nucleolytic degradation.

Understanding the molecular events by which CRISPRs function on the molecular level led Dr. Doudna and her collaborators to develop the pioneering genome editing capability that functions broadly across many species. Dr. Doudna gives an overview of this technology in the following video.

NSF funding for Dr. Doudna’s groundbreaking research began in 2007 and continues today.  Her research represents an excellent example of how fundamental research inspires innovation.


1CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. These repeats are often associated with coding sequences for RNA-guided DNA endonuclease enzymes, general denoted “Cas” for CRISPR-associated.