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Two scientists who pioneered the revolutionary gene-editing technology CRISPR are the winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna share the award for developing the tool that has inspired countless applications in medicine, agriculture and basic science. CRISPR, short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, is a microbial ‘immune system’ that prokaryotes — that is, bacteria and archaea — use to prevent infection by viruses called phages. In a landmark 2012 paper in Science, the duo adapted the system to function in a test-tube and showed that it could be programmed to cut specific sites in isolated DNA.
Nobel-prize predictions have often included CRISPR, but there has been debate over who would receive the award among the technology’s many contributors. The work also sparked a fierce patent battle that rumbles on to this day. One of those who might have shared the award today, geneticist George Church, thinks the committee made the right call: “I think it’s a great choice,” he says .
Australia’s universities and national science agency were thrown a lifeline in yesterday’s budget. Universities are set to receive Aus$1 billion (US$710 million) in funding to support research next year, and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation will receive an extra Aus$459 million over four years. The country’s first budget since the pandemic began offers a major spending spree designed to kick-start the economy.
Features & opinion
Science and politics are inseparable, argues a Nature editorial. Nature plans to increase politics coverage from around the world, and to publish more primary research in political science and related fields. “The conventions that have guided the relationship between science and politics are under threat, and Nature cannot stand by in silence,” the editorial says.
A questionable data set from a mysterious company forced high-profile retractions, cast doubt on drug trials and tarnished public trust amid a deadly pandemic. But the warning signs had been there all along, reports The Scientist. Its investigation describes a series of missed opportunities, wishful thinking and signs that a similar snafu could happen again.
Image of the week
The ozone hole over the Antarctic is one of the largest and deepest in recent years. In this animation, the colours indicate the amount of ozone in millipascals (mPa) in the atmosphere, with levels below one mPa appearing transparent. Last year, the hole was particularly small; both extremes were due to specific meteorological conditions. This year, a particularly strong, stable and cold polar vortex of low pressure encouraged the build-up of ozone-destroying chemicals, says the European Commission’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS). The big hole “confirms that we need to continue enforcing the Montreal Protocol banning emissions of ozone depleting chemicals,” says Vincent-Henri Peuch, director of CAMS. (The Independent | 4 min read)