A graduate of Pomona College was one of two women awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry Wednesday morning.
Biochemist Jennifer Doudna won the prize, along with Emmanuelle Charpentier of France, “for the development of a method for genome editing,” according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
The pair discovered the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors in 2012, a discovery the academy said was one of “gene technology’s sharpest tools.”
By using the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors, “researchers can change the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms with extremely high precision” the academy said in a statement announcing the award. “This technology has had a revolutionary impact on the life sciences, is contributing to new cancer therapies and may make the dream of curing inherited diseases come true.”
The 56-year-old Doudna, who was born in Washington, D.C., graduated from Pomona College in 1985 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biochemistry. She later attended Harvard Medical School and earned a Ph.D. in Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology in 1989. She currently serves as the Ka Shing Chancellor Chair Professor in the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at UC Berkeley.
Doudna and Charpentier, director of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, Germany, will split the prize worth about $1.1 million.
Pomona College Wednesday morning issued a statement praising Doudna, noting she is the first graduate of Pomona College to receive a Nobel Prize.
“Jennifer Doudna’s revolutionary research in gene editing and her thoughtful consideration of its implications hold the potential to change the lives of countless people around the globe,” said Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr. “We are so proud that she received her undergraduate education at Pomona College and that she continues to engage in the life of our community. Her sense of discovery, her commitment to rigorous work and her willingness to reflect on its meaning embody some of the highest values of the College.”
Doudna grew up on Hawaii’s big island, where her father was a professor of English literature at University of Hawaii, attending Hilo High School before coming to Pomona. She cites her Pomona education as a key ingredient in her scholarly success.
“I am grateful to Pomona every day, honestly,” she said in a recent Pomona College Magazine interview, “because it was a liberal arts education that exposed me to so many ideas that I would never have come in contact with, probably, without having attended Pomona.”
The Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced Thursday, the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday and the Prize in Economic Sciences next Monday. This year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to three researchers on Monday and the prize in physics was announced Tuesday, when a UCLA professor in astrophysics was one of the three winners.