Sometimes, the Nobel Committee does the right thing


There has been an ongoing and ugly legal battle over rights to the CRISPR/Cas technology for gene editing, which has swiftly become an important tool in the molecular biology toolbox. I think most of us agree that the people most responsible for the discovery are Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, but then the Broad Institute under Eric Lander saw a hot topic, threw bodies at the problem, and rushed to get their fingers in the pie, including, as a sneaky tactic, publishing a review article that downplayed the role of Doudna/Charpentier. It was a nasty, greedy game they were playing, and I’d hoped people would see through it.

Apparently they did, because now Doudna and Charpentier have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Justice served!

It’s clear now that history has stamped Doudna and Charpentier with the credit for this scientific discovery, which is nice. I doubt that that will matter much to the legal system which determines who gets stamped with all the money from the patents, but it is a step forward.

Comments

  1. birgerjohansson says

    Eric Lander et al may get the money, but it is the two ladies (thank you for increasing the still tiny number of women laureates) who will get institutes named after them, and be mobbed by students and science journalists wherever they go.
    This century will be the century of genetic engineering, just as the two previous centuries were the centuries of metal hardware. Biofuels, medicines and things we have not yet conceived of will depend on this work.
    Repairing the biosphere with GM plants will depend on this work. Bloody well everything will build on this.

  2. birgerjohansson says

    NB translation error:
    The term I am looking for would mean “be surrounded by/almost trampled by crowds/fans/admirers” ,
    not ‘mobbed” (for examples of other weird translations, see the film title “Stalker”)

  3. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    Rosalind Franklin recompense
    IE overlooked by Nobel when awarding Watson and Crick the award for the discovery of DNA structure

  4. whheydt says

    Since Doudna is at UC Berkeley, she’ll get something else out of this… Winning a Nobel prize is about the only way to get a personal parking space on campus.

  5. birgerjohansson says

    Was Rosalind Franklin still alive at the time?
    It is my understanding she died of cancer, and the Nobel rules do not allow for posthumous awards (although at least one laureate died days before being awarded the prize, and the committe was unaware of this fact).
    .
    A much worse case is the discoverer of pulsars (forgive me for not recalling get name) who was overlooked while the professor got the prize. Fred Hoyle got quite upset about it.

  6. birgerjohansson says

    whheydt @5
    Is Berkeley one of those places that is using parking tickets as a way to get money? I have heard horror stories about some universities that strive to operate like companies….
    .
    I hope Doudna et al have public communication skills like Neil DeGrasse Tyson. There are legions of know-nothings that are scaremongering about every and all applications of GM.

  7. birgerjohansson says

    Watson and Crick published their article in Nature 1952 or 1953 behind the back of Franklin.
    Franklin died 1958.
    Watson and Crick got the prize 1962.
    If Franklin’s contribution was known to the Nobel committe, they ought definitely to have brought this up, even if they could not formally let her estate share the Prize. The big villains in the tale are however Francis and Crick.

  8. whheydt says

    Re: birgerjohansson @ #7…
    One has to distinguish between UC Berkeley–a state institution–and the surrounding city of Berkeley. The city hates cars. The university is, so far as I’ve ever encountered, neutral on them. It’s fairly easy to park temporarily on campus. Just drive up to the gate and give a plausible reason (e.g. I have to drop books at the main library) and you get a short-term parking pass. To park regularly, and for long periods on campus, you need a permit and–usually–an assigned spot. That’s what winning a Nobel prize gets you. There are a number of university-run parking lots around campus.

  9. Rob Grigjanis says

    birgerjohansson @6:

    A much worse case is the discoverer of pulsars (forgive me for not recalling get name) who was overlooked while the professor got the prize.

    You probably mean Jocelyn Bell Burnell. In her own words:

    It has been suggested that I should have had a part in the Nobel Prize awarded to Tony Hewish for the discovery of pulsars. There are several comments that I would like to make on this: First, demarcation disputes between supervisor and student are always difficult, probably impossible to resolve. Secondly, it is the supervisor who has the final responsibility for the success or failure of the project. We hear of cases where a supervisor blames his student for a failure, but we know that it is largely the fault of the supervisor. It seems only fair to me that he should benefit from the successes, too. Thirdly, I believe it would demean Nobel Prizes if they were awarded to research students, except in very exceptional cases, and I do not believe this is one of them.

  10. Loree says

    NB translation error:
    The term I am looking for would mean “be surrounded by/almost trampled by crowds/fans/admirers” ,
    not ‘mobbed” (for examples of other weird translations, see the film title “Stalker”)

    “Mobbed” is the right word. It means exactly that:
    https://www.thefreedictionary.com/mobbed

    tr.v. mobbed, mob·bing, mobs
    1. To crowd around and jostle or annoy, especially in anger or excessive enthusiasm: Eager fans mobbed the popular singer.

  11. birgerjohansson says

    Loree @11 Thanks! English is tricky, especiaĺly when I know just enough to feel unfounded confidence….
    .
    I think we will hear more about Charpentier and Doudna than we ever heard of Watson and Crick. This is engineering-level knowledge that can be applied to lots of everyday biochemical problems.
    Biodiesel, biopetroleum, producing complex pharmaceutical molecules from yeast, turning harmless viruses into vaccines for deadly diseases, and things we haven’t thought of yet.

  12. chris61 says

    Kudos to Doudna and Charpentier. A well-deserved award for a major scientific contribution.

  13. nomadiq says

    I’ve met Doudna twice. A very intelligent and engaging person in my experience. Good for her!

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