Between patent dispute and ethics debate
This year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry goes to the developers of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene scissors. A foreseeable decision that still holds surprises - and a source of controversy.
The French micro and molecular biologist Emmanuelle Charpentier and the US biochemist Jennifer Doudna have received the award for the most important scientific breakthrough of the 21st century to date, the development of the "gene scissors" CRISPR-Cas9. This molecular tool allows the genome to be modified at any given location.
The eight-year-old method has already revolutionized science."The technology has become indispensable for both stem cell research and developmental biology and research into various diseases," explains Alexander Meissner, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin. This also applies to plant and animal breeding. But the enormous potential of the process has given rise to conflicts, including a year-long dispute over lucrative patents. To this day, legal disputes between Charpentier, Doudna and their respective universities on the one hand and the US neuroscientist Feng Zhang from MIT on the other hand smolder. A few months after Doudna and Charpentier, he also discovered the potential of CRISPR-Cas.
Zhang, together with the US molecular biologist George Church from Harvard University, demonstrated that the technique can be applied not only to bacteria but also to eukaryotes such as plants and animals. The Nobel Prize winners who have just been chosen did not succeed in proving this. The fact that neither Zhang nor Church is involved in the award and that the honor expressly only refers to the development of the basic principle of CRISPR-Cas9 is certainly unexpected in view of the enormous medical importance the method has now achieved…