Press Room

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 2, 2017

2017 Japan Prize Honors Trailblazers in Life Science and Cryptography

Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna deciphered CRISPR-Cas9, creating a revolutionary tool for editing DNA;
Adi Shamir has made significant contributions to the fields of cryptography and computer science

TOKYO (February 2, 2017) – Central to its deep commitment to honor the most innovative and meaningful advances worldwide, The Japan Prize Foundation today announced the laureates of the 2017 Japan Prize, who have pushed the envelope in their respective fields of Life Sciences and Electronics, Information and Communication. Three scientists are being recognized with the 2017 Japan Prize for original and outstanding achievements that not only contribute to the advancement of science and technology, but also promote peace and prosperity for all mankind.

Emmanuelle Charpentier, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, Germany, and visiting professor at Umeå University, Sweden, and Jennifer Doudna, Professor of Chemistry and of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, are being honored for deciphering the molecular details of the type II bacterial immune system CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats)-Cas and the creation of the CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing system, a truly revolutionary technique in genetic engineering, far more economical and faster than those previously available. This overwhelmingly simple technique enables scientists to cut the DNA of any organism at arbitrary locations and edit freely by means of removing, replacing or insertion. It was adopted at an explosive pace as a research tool in the life sciences, and is now being applied to research in a wide range of fields, such as agriculture, biofuels, drug development and medicine, and in the future, may make it possible to correct mutations at precise locations in the human genome to treat and cure genetic causes of disease.

Professor Charpentier is best known for her work in understanding molecular mechanisms governing the interaction of gram-positive pathogens with their hosts, employing the human pathogen Streptococcus pyogenes (Group A streptococcus, GAS) as a model organism. She worked to decipher the molecular mechanisms of the bacterial CRISPR-Cas9 immune system: in particular, she uncovered the mechanism of maturation of non-coding RNAs key for the CRISPR-Cas9 system, and together with Dr. Doudna, showed that Cas9 could be used to make cuts in any DNA sequence desired. The method they developed has been successfully employed by researchers worldwide to edit the DNA sequences of plants, animals, and laboratory cell lines. Charpentier has been awarded several international prizes, awards and acknowledgements, including the 2014 Grand Prix Jean-Pierre Lecocq from the French Academy of Sciences, the 2015 Carus Medal from the German National Academy of Science, Leopoldina, and the 2016 Leibniz Prize, Germany’s most prestigious research honor. She is a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and member of several other European and American Academies. In 2016, she received an honorary Doctorate from New York University.

Dr. Doudna has devoted her scientific career to understanding the function of catalytic and other non-protein-coding RNAs. Using structural biology and biochemistry, Doudna's work deciphering the molecular structures and biochemical activities of RNA enzymes (ribozymes) and other functional RNAs, along with their protein-binding partners, has shown how these molecules carry out complex activities in cells, and are uniquely capable of encoding and controlling the expression of genetic information. Doudna’s work in understanding RNA-mediated regulation of the genome is focused on two major areas: CRISPR systems, and RNA-mediated protein synthesis. Her work with Professor Charpentier established CRISPR-Cas9 as a transformative technology for gene editing in cells and organisms. Early in her career, Doudna was a Searle Scholar, a Beckman Young Investigator and a Packard Fellow, and since 1997 she has been a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. She has received more than 20 major awards for her research, including the Lurie Prize in Biomedical Research, the Paul Janssen Prize and the Heineken Prize. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the National Academy of Inventors and a Foreign Member of the Royal Society. In 2015 she was named one of the 100 leading global thinkers by Foreign Policy.

Together, Charpentier and Doudna received the 2015 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences; the 2015 Gruber Foundation International Prize in Genetics; the 2015 Princess of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research; and the L’Oreal Unesco for Women in Science Award 2016.

The advent of open digital networks, namely the Internet, has enabled us to lead infinitely more convenient lives. The ease and comfort which we take for granted today has been made possible due to security measures that prevent the theft and manipulation of valuable data. It is Dr. Adi Shamir who proposed many of the these underlying concepts in information security and developed a series of practical solutions.

Dr. Shamir is the Borman Professor of Computer Science at the Weizmann Institute in Israel and an internationally-recognized cryptographer. His achievements range from the development of the “RSA cryptosystem,” an innovative encryption technique utilizing mathematical methodology, to the proposal of the “secret sharing scheme,” which ensures secrecy by breaking up classified information into parts and dispersing it among several individuals; the “identification and signature schemes” through which individuals can be identified without revealing secret information; and the generic “differential cryptanalysis,” which deciphers common key cryptosystems.

Dr. Shamir has also made significant breakthroughs in the research of side-channel attacks, which decipher code by monitoring the physical information of the computer carrying out the encryption, such as power consumption and noise. By developing cryptosystems which form the basis of information security, Dr. Shamir has paved the way to the fast and convenient open digital network environment that we take for granted today. These remarkable achievements have transformed cryptography into the modern academic discipline of cryptology.

Shamir was the recipient of the 2002 A.M. Turing Award; elected to the U.S. Academy of Sciences (2005); the 2008 Israel Award; the UAP Scientific Prize; The Vatican's PIUS XI Gold Medal; and was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Mathematics from the University of Waterloo (2009).

To honor Professor Charpentier, Dr. Doudna, and Dr. Shamir, the Japan Prize Foundation will host an award ceremony on April 19, 2017 in Tokyo. Each laureate will receive a certificate of recognition and a commemorative gold medal. A cash award of 50 million Japanese yen (approximately US $420,000) will also be given to each laureate. The Japan Prize is highly competitive: the nomination process ends in February, and, every year from March to November, the Foundation considers the nominations of 13,000 prominent scientists and researchers from around the world.

Currently, the Foundation is in the initial stage of the nomination process for the 2018 Japan Prize, and is asking its selected nominators across the globe to turn in the names and achievements of the candidates who they believe is deserving of the prestigious international prize in the fields of “Resource, Energy, Environment and Social Infrastructure” and “Medical Science and Medicinal Science.” The submission deadline is the end of February 2017.

About the Japan Prize Foundation
The Japan Prize is awarded to scientists and researchers, regardless of nationality, who have made significant contributions to the progress of science and technology, as well as society, to further the peace and prosperity of mankind. While the prize encompasses all fields of science, two fields are designated for the Japan Prize each year. Since its inception in 1985, the Japan Prize Foundation has awarded the Japan Prize to 86 laureates from 13 countries. For additional details about the Japan Prize Foundation and its activities, please visit http://www.japanprize.jp/en.

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