Technion Awards Harvey Prize to Developers of the CRISPR-Cas9 Genetic Editing Technology, and to Father of Algorithmic Game Theory
The prestigious Harvey Prize for science and technology was awarded on Sunday at Technion to Prof. Emmanuelle Charpentier, Prof. Jennifer Doudna and Prof. Feng Zhang, who developed the groundbreaking genetic editing technology CRISPR-Cas9, and to Prof. Christos H. Papadimitriou, one of the founding fathers of algorithmic game theory. The ceremony was attended by Technion President Prof. Uri Sivan, Executive V.P. for Research Prof. Koby Rubinstein, Executive V.P. for Academic Affairs Prof. Shimon Marom, Senior Executive V.P. Prof. Oded Rabinovitch, V.P. for External Relations and Resource Development Prof. Alon Wolf, deans and faculty members. The master of ceremonies was Prof. Adi Salzberg of the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine.
“The Harvey Prize epitomizes the institution that I have the honor of heading,” Technion President Prof. Uri Sivan said at the ceremony. “It represents excellence on a global scale, celebrates human ingenuity and accomplishments, and showcases the power of science to improve humanity. The four individuals who received the prize are proof that curiosity, creativity and determination can indeed change the world.”
Prof. Emmanuelle Charpentier from the Max Planck Institute and Prof. Jennifer Doudna from UC Berkeley published their historic article in 2012 in the prestigious journal Science, describing how the bacterial protein CRISPR-Cas9 can identify targets in the DNA. The article demonstrated how Cas9 can be easily programmed to edit a broad range of DNA targets. Prof. Charpentier and Prof. Doudna were awarded the Harvey Prize for their extraordinary contribution to understanding central aspects of the CRISPR-Cas9 bacterial defense system and its use as a genome editing tool to program eukaryotic cells, as well as for clarifying structural biology and the biochemistry of the CRISPR-Cas9 system and its translation to applied science. These dramatic discoveries generated a revolution in life sciences and make it possible to edit, modify and repair DNA. In the future, these breakthroughs are expected to spark the development of innovative treatments for diseases and aging.
“Basic science did not lose its importance, and it is still crucial for developing important applications,” said Prof. Charpentier, who is head of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Pathogens, at the ceremony. “A deep understanding of biological processes is necessary for developing medical applications and innovative treatments for serious diseases, and I am extremely grateful for the academic freedom we are given and for the financial support for our work.
“It is a great honor for me to receive this prize, and I thank the Technion for acknowledging the importance of our research. I would not have been able to embark by myself on the long journey that led to the development of the CRISPR-Cas9 technology as a genetic editing tool, and I would like to thank all the young students and brilliant colleagues who worked with me over the years, and especially my partner Prof. Jennifer Doudna.”
Prof. Doudna, who was unable to attend the ceremony, expressed gratitude for the prize in a video clip. “It’s a wonderful honor to be receiving the Harvey Prize for the development of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology. I congratulate my co-recipients and in particular I acknowledge the wonderful collaboration with lab of Prof. Emmanuelle Charpentier. Our teams worked together to understand the fundamental biology of a bacterial immune system known as CRISPR. When we figured out how Cas9 works as a programmable enzyme, we recognized it could be harnessed as a powerful technology to change the DNA sequences cells and of organisms – in ways that scientists around the world are now using towards curing genetic diseases and coming up with agricultural solutions to the problems of climate change and pestilence.”
Prof. Feng Zhang received the prize for a landmark article he published in Science in 2013 on CRISPR-Cas9 technology for genomic editing in developed organisms and on using the CRISPR-Cas9 system as an RNA-programmable system for use in eukaryotic cells. “Working with scientists from all over the world creates close research and personal relationships, and I’m glad that I have wonderful friends and colleagues also from Israel,” Prof. Feng Zhang said at the ceremony. Prof. Zhang, who is 38, is the youngest person to ever win a Harvey Prize. “The Harvey Prize is a huge honor for me, and I have no doubt that it will motivate me to return to the lab and continue working hard.”
The winner in the field of Computer Science, Prof. Christos H. Papadimitriou, is considered the father of algorithmic game theory. He taught at Harvard, the National Technical University of Athens, Stanford, UC San Diego and UC Berkeley, and is currently a professor of Computer Science at Columbia University. He is one of the leading scientists in the theory of computer science, and is best known for his work on computational complexity. Prof. Papadimitriou won a Gödel Prize in 2012.
Prof. Papadimitriou said at the ceremony that, “Twenty five years ago, Computer Science’s center of gravity shifted from the computer itself to the Internet. This process led to studies that were crucial for the development of Science, for improving humanity and for understanding the universe. I’m happy that I was able to participate in these developments and to work with outstanding researchers from the Technion, especially the late Prof. Shimon Even. It is a big honor for me not just to receive the prize, but also to receive it together with the developers of CRISPR-Cas9, who are responsible for a revolution in life sciences.”
The Harvey Prize, which was established in 1971 by Leo M. Harvey of Los Angeles, is awarded annually at Technion for exceptional achievements in science, technology, and human health, and for outstanding contributions to peace in the Middle East, to society and to the economy. Over the years, more than a quarter of Harvey laureates have subsequently won the Nobel Prize and therefore the Harvey Prize is considered a “Nobel predictor.”