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CRISPR-Cas9
This computer-generated graphic shows a schematic representation of the molecular CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing system. The Cas9 enzyme (orange) cuts the DNA (blue) in the location selected by the RNA (red). Image courtesy of Carlos Clarivan / Science Photo Library / NTB Scanpix via Kavli Prize)

Three inventors of the revolutionary CRISPR-Cas9 technique for editing DNA are among the recipients of this year’s Kavli Prizes, which recognize scientific breakthroughs in fields outside the sweet spots for Nobel Prizes.

Other Kavli laureates include three neuroscientists who trace the biological mechanisms behind hearing (and hearing loss), as well as an astrophysicist who has shed light on the chemical and physical processes in interstellar clouds.

The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters announced the winners today in Oslo, during a ceremony that was also live-streamed at the World Science Festival in New York.

“These laureates represent truly pioneering science, the kind of science which will benefit humanity in a profound way,” the academy’s president, Ole Sejersted, said in today’s news release. “They will inspire both current and future generations to continue searching for answers to some of the most difficult questions of our time.

The prize consists of a gold medal and $1 million in cash for each of three fields: nanoscience, neuroscience and astrophysics.

Nanoscience

Nanoscience laureates
Emmanuelle Charpentier, Jennifer Doudna and Virginijus Šikšnys. (Kavli Prize Photo)

The prize is shared by Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Max Planck Society, Jennifer Doudna of the University of California at Berkeley and Virginijus Šikšnys of Vilnius University. The academy credited Charpentier and Doudna, and Šikšnys separately, with inventing the CRISPR-Cas9 molecular process for identifying specific sequences in genomes and editing them. The award comes amid a patent fight over CRISPR-Cas9’s therapeutic applications.

Neuroscience

Neuroscience laureates
A. James Hudspeth, Robert Fettiplace and Christine Petit. (Kavli Prize Photo)

The prize is shared by A. James Hudspeth of the Rockefeller University, Robert Fettiplace of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and Christine Petit of Collège de France/Pasteur Institute. Prize committee chairman Ole Petter Ottersen said the researchers “have provided fundamental new insights into how our inner ear transforms sound into electrical signals — the basis of hearing — and have unveiled genetic and molecular mechanisms underlying hearing loss.”

Astrophysics

Astrophysics laureate Ewine van Dishoeck
Ewine van Dishoeck. (Leiden University Photo / Henrik Sandsjö via Kavli Prize)

The prize goes to Ewine van Dishoeck, a professor of molecular astrophysics at the University of Leiden, for research contributing breakthroughs in astrochemistry. Van Dishoeck’s observational studies show molecules form and evolve during the transformation of a cloud into stellar systems like our own. The academy said such processes led to the formation of molecules crucial for life as we know it.

The Kavli Prize is a partnership between the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, the Kavli Foundation and the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research. First awarded in 2008, the Kavli Prize has honored 47 scientists from 11 countries.

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