Pomona College alumna wins Nobel Prize in Chemistry

A middle-aged, blonde woman in a blazer smiles at the camera and looks into the distance.
Pomona College alumna Jennifer Doudna PO ’85 has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her research in CRISPR gene editing. (Courtesy: Barbara Ries)

Pomona College alumna Jennifer Doudna PO ’85 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020 Wednesday for developing a genome editing method with Emmanuelle Charpentier. She is the first Pomona alumna to receive the prize and part of the first women duo to win a Nobel in the sciences.

Doudna graduated from Pomona with a Bachelor of Arts in biochemistry in 1985. She went on to earn her doctorate in biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology from Harvard Medical School in 1989 and is currently a researcher and professor at the University of California, Berkeley, according to the university’s website. 

Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna have discovered one of gene technology’s sharpest tools: the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors. Using these, researchers can change the DNA of animals, plants and microorganisms with extremely high precision,” a press release from the Nobel Prize website says. “This technology has had a revolutionary impact on the life sciences, is contributing to new cancer therapies and may make the dream of curing inherited diseases come true.”

Doudna and Charpentier’s revolutionary discovery in 2012 is considered one of the most significant discoveries in the history of biology. They will receive a joint prize amount of 10 million Swedish Krona, equivalent to over $1.1 million. 

In 2015, the pair was named in the Time 100’s most influential people list, the same year late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg won the award. Doudna was listed as a runner-up for Time’s Person of the Year in 2016.

Pomona President G. Gabrielle Starr congratulated Doudna for her accomplishment, noting in an email to students that Doudna “affirms Pomona’s vision of the liberal arts as a path for addressing the world’s grand challenges.”

We are so proud that she received her undergraduate education at Pomona College and that she continues to engage in the life of our community,” Starr said. “Her sense of discovery, her commitment to rigorous work and her willingness to reflect on its meaning embody some of the highest values of the College.”

In an interview with Pomona College Magazine in 2018, Doudna reflected on her time at Pomona, which she cited as influential in shaping her career path.  

I am grateful to Pomona every day, honestly, because it was a liberal arts education that exposed me to so many ideas that I would never have come into contact with, probably, without having attended Pomona,” she said. “It’s a rich intellectual environment that opens one’s mind to the incredibly interesting diversity of the world in terms of cultures, ideas and perspectives.”

A former member of the Pomona College Board of Trustees, Doudna was also chosen for the 2009 Robbins Lectureship, which has brought some of the world’s pre-eminent chemists to Pomona College over the years, according to a news release from Pomona.

Doudna has received several awards on the international stage, including the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the Gruber Prize in Genetics (2015), the Canada Gairdner International Award (2016) and the Japan Prize (2017).

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