Women in Science

Jennifer Doudna

Introduction: -

Doudna is an American biochemist who’s majorly known for her discovery of CRISPR gene editing. She’s someone who has immensely contributed to the field of biochemistry and genetics. She received the 2020 Nobel prize in Chemistry with Emmanuelle Charpentier for developing a method of gene editing. She currently works at the University of California, Berkeley as a chair professor in the department of chemistry and the department of molecular and cell biology.

Education: -

Doudna was born in Washington, D.C on 19 February, 1964. She was born to Dorothy Jones and Martin Kirk Doudna. She grew up in Hilo, Hawaii as her father got a job as the professor at the University of Hawaii, Hilo. The environment that she was surrounded by made her interested in life sciences and her parents always encouraged her to read. She was mainly interested in mathematics and science in school. James Watson’s book on the discovery of DNA structure was a major source of inspiration for Doudna.

In 1985, she completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in Biochemistry. She earned a PhD in Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology in 1989 from Harvard Medical School. She was an investigator in molecular biology at the Massachusetts general hospital and in genetics at Harvard medical school.

At the start of her career, Doudna worked to discover the structure and function of ribozymes. Main focus being engineering the ribozymes and understanding their mechanisms. As the molecular mechanism of ribozymes wasn’t clear, Doudna went to the University of Colorado Boulder to crystallize and determine the 3D structure of ribozymes for the first time. Later on, using X-ray diffraction Doudna was able to crystallize the 3D structure of the catalytic core of Tetrahymena group 1 ribozyme. She and her group also crystallized other ribozymes, which included the Hepatitis Delta Virus ribozyme.

CRISPR gene editing: -

In 2006, Jillian Banfield introduced Doudna to CRISPR. In 2012, Doudna and her colleagues made a discovery that edits the genomic DNA in a much faster way. The discovery is based on a protein named Cas 9 which is found in the streptococcus bacterial immune system and acts like scissors which helps to cleave the DNA. This was discovered back in 1987 but Doudna and Charpentier were the first to show that the Cas9 can be programmed using different RNAs and be used to edit and cut different types of DNAs. This method of genomic editing has a wide range of applications. It’s useful in cell biology, animal research and also used to treat various diseases such as sickle cell anemia, HIV and cystic fibrosis.

Image source: Google Images

Through CRISPR, Doudna discovered that hepatitis C virus utilizes a different method to synthesize viral proteins. This discovery could be really helpful to design drugs that stop the infections without harming the body.

CRISPR and COVID-19: -

In March 2020, Doudna and her colleagues thought of using CRISPR-based technologies in order to diagnose COVID-19. This method proved out to be rapid and less expensive compared to RT-PCR tests.

CRISPR technology used to detect COVID-19

Image source: Google Images

Awards: -

Doudna has received several accolades for her significant contributions to the field of science. She received the 1996 Beckmann Young Investigators award.

In 2000 for determining the structure of ribozymes she was awarded the Alan T. Waterman award.

In 2018, she was awarded the NAS award in chemical sciences and a medal of honor from the American Cancer Society.

In 2020, she and Emmanuelle Charpentier received the Wolf prize in medicine. Also in the same year, they were awarded the Nobel prize in Chemistry for developing a method of genome editing. In 2020, she also received the Guggenheim Fellowship.

- Ved Vyas

Department of Biochemistry and Biotechnology

St. Xavier's College, Ahmedabad

References: -

  1. https://www.vox.com/2020/2/28/21154930/jennifer-doudna-crispr-gene-editing-babies

  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC535403

  3. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jun/17/a-crack-in-creation-by-jennifer-doudna-and-samuel-sternberg-review

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