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Leaders in Innovation

2023 Inductee Jennifer Doudna: Making Discoveries in Gene Editing

At the National Inventors Hall of Fame®, we are excited to welcome our 2023 Class of Inductees while celebrating 50 years of connecting generations of creators, innovators and entrepreneurs. It is our privilege to recognize each member of this year’s class of world-changing inventors, including biochemist Jennifer Doudna.

In collaboration with fellow 2023 Inductee Emmanuelle Charpentier, Doudna developed the gene-editing system CRISPR-Cas9, a versatile technology that provides the means to edit DNA on an unprecedented scale and with extremely high precision.

A Passion for Discovery

Doudna was born in 1964 in Washington, D.C. During her childhood, her family moved across the U.S., first to Michigan and then to Hawaii. Early on, she developed a passion for discovery, and particularly for making discoveries in nature.

Doudna said that while growing up, she would ask herself, “What if I could become a scientist who worked on discovering things about the natural world, maybe things no one had ever known before?”

Her lifelong interest in science brought her to Pomona College, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry in 1985, and then to Harvard Medical School, where she earned a doctorate in biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology in 1989. She completed her postdoctoral research at Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of Colorado.


A Groundbreaking Collaboration

Before Doudna met Charpentier at a scientific conference in 2011, both already had been researching different aspects of CRISPR, an immune system used by bacteria to fend off viruses. Doudna had been working at the University of California, Berkeley, while Charpentier was at Umeå University in Sweden.

While Doudna focused on RNA, a partner to DNA in carrying genetic information, and investigated how a repeating sequence of DNA in the bacterial genome enabled bacteria to fight viral infections, Charpentier had published research on an unusual RNA called tracrRNA, and how its work with the Cas (CRISPR-associated) 9 protein could help identify and eliminate invading viruses. When the two began working together, their findings led to significant innovation.

In 2012, Doudna and Charpentier discovered how Cas9 is guided by both the tracrRNA and an RNA matching a viral sequence, using it to seek out and destroy matching viral DNA. They engineered the two-piece RNA into a single guide RNA and showed that it could be designed to pinpoint any gene, allowing the Cas9 protein to cut at that spot. They then proposed that CRISPR-Cas9 can be re-engineered as a programmable gene editing tool to delete or add specific strands of DNA.

With applications across scientific fields including human and veterinary medicine, agriculture and biotechnology, CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology is faster, more accurate and more efficient than previous genome editing methods and has been rapidly adopted by the scientific community.

CRISPR is now being tested for treatment of genetic diseases and also is being explored to create crops that resist disease and are resilient to a changing climate.

Doudna, who has more than 100 U.S. patents, currently holds the Li Ka Shing Chancellor’s Chair in Biomedical and Health Sciences and is a professor in the departments of chemistry and of molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley. She founded the Innovative Genomics Institute as well as several companies including Caribou Biosciences, Intellia Therapeutics, Mammoth Biosciences and Scribe Therapeutics. She is also a fellow of the American Association for Cancer Research Academy, American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Packard Foundation.

In 2020, Doudna and Charpentier were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their innovative work.


Meet More Inspiring 2023 Inductees

To learn more about the visionary inventors who make up our latest class of Inductees, we invite you to visit our website.

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