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Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna created a tool to alter genes. It earned them the top scientific distinction. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons)
Emmanuelle Charpentier (L) and Jennifer Doudna (R) created a tool to alter genes. It earned them the top scientific distinction. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons)

It’s among the highest honors a scientist can receive — and today, these two women earned it.

Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna made history as the first two women to ever receive the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry without any male collaborators at their sides. (The first woman to win a Nobel Prize for scientific achievement, of course, was Marie Curie, who shared the honor with her husband and another male researcher.)

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Charpentier and Doudna received the honor for discovering what is called the CRISPR gene-editing mechanism. This tool can, essentially, cut into an organism’s genetic sequences, allowing scientists to cut into genomes, which opens up new treatment options for genetic ailments. It has other applications, too — for example, it served as the basis for a Covid-19 test. 

Representatives from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a release that “researchers can change the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms with extremely high precision” using this tool. “This technology has had a revolutionary impact on the life sciences, is contributing to new cancer therapies and may make the dream of curing inherited diseases come true.”

Charpentier, director of the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens in Berlin, first made the discovery nearly 10 years ago — seemingly by accident. Doudna, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, teamed up with her soon after to refine the work.

Now, they’re Nobel Prize recipients because of it — as well as the happy winners of $1.1 million.

[Related: 9 Women in STEM Who Might Just Save Us All]

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