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Ruth Palmer looks into a  microscope
Ruth Palmer, a Professor of molecular cell biology, leads a research group at the University of Gothenburg which use CRISPR/Cas9 daily in their research on the childhood cancer neuroblastoma.
Photo: Johan Wingborg
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Nobel Prize in Chemistry: "Gene Scissors reflects the importance of basic science"

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This year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry goes to scientists Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna for their discovery of the so-called gene scissors.
"The prize shows how basic research can lead to great discoveries," says Anne Farewell, Associate Professor of microbiology at the University of Gothenburg.

The gene scissor, with the scientific name CRISPR/Cas9, originates from studies of an unusual DNA sequence in bacteria without an obvious application.

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Anne Farewell
Anne Farewell, Associate Professor of microbiology
Photo: Jonas Boström

"But the two women who receive the prize today advanced the basic research further and developed it into an important tool that is currently used in most molecular biology laboratories," says Anne Farewell.

With the help of the gene scissors, scientists can with high precision change the genome of a large number of cells and organisms, ranging from bacteria to human cells.

"Before the gene scissors, there were techniques to do this, but they tended to be specific to certain types of cells, they were time-consuming and risked causing unwanted changes in the genome," according to Anne Farewell.

Uses the method daily

Ruth Palmer is a Professor of molecular cell biology and previously a colleague of the Nobel Laureate Emmanuelle Charpentier when she was active in Umeå. Now Ruth Palmer leads a research group at the University of Gothenburg,  which use CRISPR/Cas9 daily in their research on the childhood cancer neuroblastoma.

"Before the new method, it was much harder to make gene changes and it took a very long time. An experiment could then take several years, now it might take a few weeks or a few months. The method is a game changer for biological and medical research where it has opened up completely new possibilities. I think it's a super prize," says Ruth Palmer.

The importance of basic research

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Ruth Palmer, Professor of molecular cell biology
Ruth Palmer, Professor of molecular cell biology
Photo: Johan Wingborg

She believes that the prize reflects the importance of basic science, and how basic research can lead to large and important discoveries:

"Today, it is often the translational research, which focuses more on solving issues that have arisen in the clinic, which is being put forward. But we must remember that basic scientific research is a prerequisite for translational research.

And Ruth Palmer gets the support of microbiologist Anne Farewell.

"Any technology which indirectly accelerates research can lead to much faster progress in our understanding of biology." For example, we can now easily make mutations in model organisms to understand and find treatments for genetic diseases. Crispr/Cas9 is also being investigated as a possible tool in the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Text: Thomas Melin and Elin Lindström