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Biochemist Jennifer Doudna (left) and microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier in 2016. Photo: Alexander Heinl/picture alliance via Getty Images

Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier won the Nobel Prize in chemistry on Wednesday for their work developing the gene-editing tool CRISPR.

Why it matters: Gene editing could transform biology and medicine with its wide-ranging applications for understanding and treating disease, optimizing crops and eradicating pests. But its potential use in treating human diseases by changing genes that can be inherited raises major ethical questions that will challenge scientists for decades.

The backdrop: Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, or CRISPR, are sequences of genetic code that bacteria evolved to find and target invading viruses.

  • In 2012, Doudna, a biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley, and Charpentier, a microbiologist now at the Max Plank Institute for Infection Biology, reported CRISPR can be programmed to lead enzymes to genetic sequences that the enzyme then precisely snips or edits, turning a gene on or off or changing its function.

Between the lines: Doudna and Charpentier have been considered top candidates for the prize for several years, but there's an ongoing fight over patents for CRISPR and its use.

  • Berkeley and MIT have battled for years over the patent rights to CRISPR, though it's unclear how the Nobel will affect the legal fight.
  • Other researchers, including Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute at MIT, have made key contributions to gene editing as well but were not recognized by the Nobel committee.

What to watch: Earlier this week, Doudna launched Scribe Therapeutics, a startup that aims to use engineered CRISPR molecules and delivery technologies to edit cells while they are in the body. (Other approaches remove cells from the body, edit them and reintroduce them.)

  • Scribe, which is collaborating with Biogen, is looking to treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) first, per FierceBiotech.

Of note: "The award smashed records and made scientific history as the only science Nobel ever won by two women," Sharon Begley writes in STAT.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Dave Lawler, author of World
Oct 9, 2020 - World

World Food Program wins Nobel Peace Prize

David Beasley in Cuba. Photo: Yamil Lage/AFP via Getty Images

The UN's World Food Program (WFP) was awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize in a pointed assertion that multilateralism is saving lives despite the nationalism espoused by leaders like President Trump.

What they're saying: "Multilateralism seems to have a lack of respect these days,” said Nobel Committee director Berit Reiss-Andersen. "The need for international solidarity and multilateral co-operation is more conspicuous than ever."

Ipsos poll: COVID trick-or-treat

Data: Axios/Ipsos poll; Note ±3.3% margin of error for the total sample size; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

About half of Americans are worried that trick-or-treating will spread coronavirus in their communities, according to this week's installment of the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

Why it matters: This may seem like more evidence that the pandemic is curbing our nation's cherished pastimes. But a closer look reveals something more nuanced about Americans' increased acceptance for risk around activities in which they want to participate.

Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: The good and bad news about antibody therapies — Fauci: Hotspots have materialized across "the entire country."
  2. World: Belgium imposes lockdown, citing "health emergency" due to influx of cases.
  3. Economy: Conference Board predicts economy won’t fully recover until late 2021.
  4. Education: Surge threatens to shut classrooms down again.
  5. Technology: The pandemic isn't slowing tech.
  6. Travel: CDC replaces COVID-19 cruise ban with less restrictive "conditional sailing order."
  7. Sports: High school football's pandemic struggles.
  8. 🎧Podcast: The vaccine race turns toward nationalism.