“The power to control our species’ genetic future is awesome and terrifying. Deciding how to handle it may be the biggest challenge we have ever faced.”Jennifer Doudna
Jennifer Doudna was born in Washington, D.C., and was raised in Hawaii where she developed a fascination for science. In 1985 she completed a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Pomona College in Claremont, California. Several chemistry professors had a deep impact on her during her undergraduate years. One of them was Sharon Panasenko who struck Doudna not only because of her noteworthy scientific talent but also because she demonstrated how to be a successful woman in the male-dominated world of science.
Doudna is best known for her discovery, with French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier, of a molecular tool known as (CRISPR)-Cas9 in 2012. They were awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discovery and development of gene editing technologies, and are the first two women to have won a science-based Nobel Prize. Besides her research work, Doudna is also a co-founder of several companies including Mammoth Biosciences, Caribou Biosciences, Intellia Therapeutics, and Editas Medicine.
The discovery of CRISPR-Cas9, developed in 2012, provided the foundation for gene editing. It enabled researchers to make specific changes to DNA sequences in a way that was far more efficient and technologically simpler than earlier methods.
Using the CRISPR-Cas9 system, scientists were able to alter DNA and correct genetic defects in animals. By modifying DNA sequences in embryonic stem cells, Doudna opened the path to genome modification in humans. Genome modification could be used to program the editing of genomes, which is considered one of the most remarkable discoveries in the history of biology.