Two scientists have been awarded the 2020 Nobel prize in chemistry for developing the genetic scissors used in gene editing, CNN Health reported on 7 October.

The researchers discovered the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors which could be used to change the DNA of animals, plants and micro-organisms with high precision.

American biochemist Jennifer A Doudna and French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier were jointly awarded the prize.

Before announcing the winners, Göran K Hansson, general secretary for the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, said that this year’s prize was about ‘rewriting the code of life.’

The CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing tools had revolutionised the molecular life sciences, a press release from the Nobel committee said, bringing new opportunities for plant breeding, contributing to cancer therapies and opening up the possibility of finding a cure for inherited diseases.

Dr John Parrington, a lecturer in cellular and molecular pharmacology at the University of Oxford, said that CRISPR/Cas genome editing had ‘immense potential to transform our lives for the better but also raises many ethical and socio-political questions.’

Since Charpentier and Doudna discovered the CRISP/Cas9 tools in 2012 their use had escalated, according to a press release from the Nobel committee.

The technology had contributed to many important discoveries in basic research, while plant researchers had been able to develop crops that withstood mould, pests and drought, the release said.

CRISPR – short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats – equips bacteria with the ability to recognise genetic sequences that viruses insert into their DNA, and disable them by snipping the DNA.