The genome editor
On March 1, the Leibniz Prizes were awarded in Berlin. Alongside two other Max Planck scientists, microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier from the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, Berlin, was being presented with the highest scientific award in Germany.
The French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier principally investigates how bacterial pathogens interact with their environment including the human host. Those studies led her to the discovery that the so-called CRISPR-Cas9 system of bacteria could be adapted for use as an extremely precise tool to edit genetic material and study gene function. Among others applications, the CRISPR-Cas9 system is being used to develop treatments of serious human diseases.
In 2011-2012, Charpentier, together with her team at Umeå University in Sweden, elucidated the key molecular components and mechanism of the natural bacterial immune system. Because even bacteria get sick: certain viruses, so-called bacteriophages, can infect bacterial cells and inject their genetic material into the genome of these bacteria. As protection, bacteria have therefore developed a kind of "molecular scissors", the so-called CRISPR-Cas9 system, which enables them to excise the foreign genetic material.
Charpentier and colleagues then showed that genes can be specifically altered using the CRISPR-Cas9 system. Nowadays, the novel technique is used as a molecular biology tool worldwide and could pave the way for treating genetic disorders such as cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia in the future.
"The focus of my research is the understanding of the regulatory processes triggered by bacteria infectious diseases. I see this as a great opportunity to strengthen in the Max Planck Society this field of microbiology, "Charpentier said in October 2015 when she came to Berlin's Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology as director.
These discovery of the CRISPR-Cas9 system represent a true milestone for molecular biology, and Charpentier has won numerous awards for her work, including the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, Ernst Jung Prize for Medicine, the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine as well as the Swedish Göran Gustafsson prize. In addition, she also secured a place on the 2015 Time Magazine's list of the world's most influential personalities.
The discovery of the CRISPR-Cas9 system is considered a milestone for molecular, and Charpentier has won numerous awards for her work, including the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, Ernst Jung Prize for Medicine, the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine as well as the Swedish Göran Gustafsson prize. Science magazine added the gene technology method to Top Ten scientific achievements in 2015. In addition, she also secured a place on the 2015 Time Magazine's list of the world's most influential personalities.
On March 1, in addition to Emmanuelle Charpentier, two further Max Planck scientists were awarded the Leibniz Prize: Marina Rodnina from the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen, and Benjamin List of the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung in Mülheim an der Ruhr.