Million-dollar Kavli prize recognizes scientist scooped on CRISPR


Award goes to biochemists Virginijus Siksnys from Vilnius university, whose lab independently developed the gene-editing tool, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna.


CRISPR has hauled in yet another big science award, and this time the recognition includes a scientist whose contribution has sometimes been overlooked. Two biochemists widely credited with co-inventing the gene-editing technology, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, were named on 31 May as the winners of this year’s Kavli Prize in Nanoscience. So was Virginijus Siksnys, a Lithuanian biochemist whose independent work on CRISPR has thus far garnered much less mainstream attention — and Nobel-prize buzz — compared with that of Charpentier, Doudna and some other scientists.


Researchers working on the mechanism of hearing and on the formation of stars and planets also won Kavli prizes this year, in neuroscience and astrophysics, respectively.


The Kavli Foundation, established by the late Norwegian philanthropist Fred Kavli in Los Angeles, California, and the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters in Oslo announced the three biennial prizes, each of which comes with US$1 million to be split among the winners. First awarded in 2008, the prizes honour seminal research selected by three panels of experts from six global science societies and academies.


Big awards for tiny marvels


The nanoscience committee awarded the prize to Charpentier at the Max Plank Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, Doudna at the University of California, Berkeley, and Siksnys at Vilnius University in Lithuania “for the invention of CRISPR-Cas9, a precise nanotool for editing DNA, causing a revolution in biology, agriculture and medicine”.


In 2012, a group led by Charpentier and Doudna1, and several months later one led by Siksnys2, reported programming the CRISPR–Cas9 system to cut DNA at specific sites. Since then, award committees, the media and some in the scientific community have emphasized the roles of Doudna and Charpentier in developing the transformative gene-editing tool. In 2015, the pair shared the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, worth $3 million, for example. But Siksnys’s work on CRISPR has occasionally been overlooked. The Kavli nanoscience committee recognized that the three researchers conducted “key pioneering work” in the development of CRISPR-based genome editing, says chairman Arne Brataas, a physicist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.


The neuroscience award went to geneticist Christine Petit of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, and neuroscientists Robert Fettiplace at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and James Hudspeth at the Rockefeller University in New York City, “for their pioneering work on the molecular and neural mechanisms of hearing”. The researchers independently investigated the role of hair cells in the inner ear. These cells, which are covered in microscopic hair-like projections, detect sound signals and transmit them to the brain3.


Ewine van Dishoeck, winner of the astrophysics category, works in astrochemistry at Leiden University in the Netherlands, where she has made her mark “elucidating the life cycle of interstellar clouds and the formation of stars and planets”, according to the prize citation.


Her work combines theoretical studies with observations — especially, infrared spectroscopy — and laboratory experiments to understand how compounds form in space, including the organic molecules that might have been the building blocks for life. She has also used radio telescopes to study planet formation around other stars. Van Dishoeck is the president-elect of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), and will lead celebrations next year as the IAU celebrates its 100th anniversary.



The laureates will receive their prizes in Oslo on 4 September.


Source: Nature

Share this...