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Three scientists win Tang Prize in biopharmaceutical science (update)

2016/06/19 12:33:43

Emmanuelle Charpentier (right), Jennifer Doudna (left) and Feng Zhang (張鋒)

Taipei, June 19 (CNA) Three scientists -- Emmanuelle Charpentier, Jennifer Doudna and Feng Zhang (張鋒) -- were named the winners of the second Tang Prize in biopharmaceutical science on Sunday "for the development of CRISPR/Cas 9 as a breakthrough genome editing platform that promises to revolutionize biomedical research and disease treatment."

Taiwanese Nobel laureate Lee Yuan-tseh (李遠哲), who chairs the Tang Prize Selection Committee, made the announcement at a press conference in Taipei.

CRISPR/Cas9 is a unique genome editing technology that enables geneticists and medical researchers to edit parts of the genome by cutting out, replacing or adding parts to the DNA sequence.

The technology, which allows scientists to target and mutate one or more genes in the genome of a cell of interest, has been touted as the simplest, most versatile and precise method of genetic editing currently available.

Related research in academia started as early as the 1980s, and building on these discoveries, French microbiologist Charpentier first identified that there are two RNA species which guide Cas9 to the target gene.

Working together, Charpentier and American geneticist Doudna demonstrated that these two RNAs can be linked together to become a programmable single guide RNA, which could then target any desired gene.

The development of their two-component system made efficient genome editing possible, according to Lee.

Meanwhile, working independently, Chinese American synthetic biologist Zhang first reported the successful adaption of Cas9-based genome editing in mammalian and human cells. He further improved approaches for simultaneously targeting multiple genes and homology-based gene repair.

Charpentier, 47, who is currently director of the Department of Regulation in Infection Biology at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, was born in 1968 in Juvisy-sur-Orge in northern France.

Doudna, 52, is now a professor of chemistry and molecular biology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Zhang, 34, is currently the associate professor of the Departments of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and the Departments of Biological Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (MIT).

The laureates will share a cash prize of NT$40 million (US$1.23 million) and research grant of up to NT$10 million to be used within five years, and will receive medals and certificates.

The Tang Prize, nicknamed the Asian Nobel Prize, was founded by Taiwanese entrepreneur Samuel Yin to complement the Nobel and honor people who have made significant contributions in fields the Nobel doesn't cover -- namely sustainable development, biopharmaceutical science, Sinology and rule of law. The first Tang Prizes were awarded in 2014.

On Saturday, Arthur H. Rosenfeld, former commissioner of the California Energy Commission, was named the winner of the Tang Prize in sustainable development.

(By Lillian Wu, Y.F. Low, Elaine Hou and Lee Hsin-Yin)
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