Published: March 18, 2021 By

Jennifer Doudna headshot

Jennifer Doudna smashes the glass ceiling with her historic recognition in chemistry. 

After biochemist Jennifer Doudna learned she had won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry at 2:53 a.m. on Oct.7, the first thing she did was make coffee — then wake up her teenage son. 

“I said, ‘Guess what? I just won the Nobel Prize,’” she laughed. “You don’t hear that every morning.” 

Doudna, a former CU Boulder postdoc, won the prize for co-development of the genome editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 with French microbiologist Emmanuelle Charpentier — the first time a science Nobel had been won by two women together.

“It’s really important for people that have been traditionally underrepresented in certain fields to feel appreciated, to feel like their work can be recognized,” she said. “This prize in particular makes that statement.”

Now a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Doudna’s career began at CU in 1991 in the lab of Thomas Cech, a distinguished professor of chemistry, who had won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry two years earlier.

“He built an amazing group of people and an incredible lab filled with smart, hardworking, interesting people, many of whom are still some of my best friends in science,” she said.

Decades later, the Nobel Foundation honored Doudna and Charpentier for their discovery that a gene-cutting molecule known as Cas9, which is used naturally by bacteria to kill viruses, can be re-engineered as a precise gene-editing tool.

The technology is already being used in labs around the world, with potential to treat genetic diseases and cancer, engineer crops and address climate change.

“A few years ago, it sounded like science fiction,” said Doudna. “But now it’s actually happening.”