Science awards add intrigue to the Nobel race



These days, high-profile science awards seem to be everywhere. The prizes usually bring dazzling awards ceremonies, lucrative purses and a bit of public acclaim.

More revealing, they also produce rumors about who could be in line to win the most coveted prize in science, the Nobel Prize. That's why the announcement on Thursday that the prestigious Kavli 2018 Nanoscience Award is going to

Emmanuelle Charpentier,

Jennifer A. Doudna

and Virginijus Siksnys for helping to discover the Crispr-Cas9 gene editing tool is likely to splash.

The prize comes with a trip in September to the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters in Oslo to receive a gold medal and $ 1 million cash in each of the three fields. (Astrophysics and neuroscience are the other two). It also comes with an impressive record: six previous winners of Kavli have won the Nobel Prize.

"It's like having a cloak," says Harriet Zuckerman, professor emeritus of sociology at Columbia University, who has written about the proliferation of scientific awards. "Once you win a prize, you're in line to win others."

The election of Crispr scientists from the Norwegian Academy this year leads to a disputed and often controversial terrain. Crispr (which means short palindromic repeats grouped regularly and interspaced) serves as the immune system of bacteria and has been the subject of study by researchers for decades. In 2012, a group of scientists led by Dr. Charpentier, then at the University of Vienna, and Dr. Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, and a few months later, a group led by Virginijus Siksnys of the University of Vilnius in Lithuania, articles were published that reported that Crispr and the Cas9 enzyme it produces could be adapted as a tool to edit DNA in plants, animals and humans.

The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard & # 39; s

Feng Zhang,

working with a team of scientists, showed in 2013 how to use Crispr in this way. Drs. Charpentier and Doudna and their institutions also claim invention, but Broad owns the patent in the USA. UU The Berkeley group has filed an appeal in federal court, and an opinion is expected to be issued this year.

Whatever the outcome, awards often reflect how the scientific community sees a discovery. Dr. Zhang did well, winning several prestigious awards as part of a group of other scientists, including Drs. Charpentier and Doudna. Dr. Zhang was the only winner of the $ 500,000 Lemelson-MIT Award last year.

But on the front of the award, Drs. Charpentier and Doudna seem to be in the lead. The two have also won the Japan 2017 Award (which earned them $ 420,000 each), the 2015 Breakthrough Award in Life Sciences (a $ 3 million prize) and other prizes that are considered precursors to a possible Nobel Prize.

Some observers say Kavli solidifies the state of Drs. Charpentier and Doudna as main candidates for a Nobel related to Crisp. Since the Nobel is awarded to a maximum of three people for each category, it leaves a place open.

Jacob Sherkow, a visiting researcher at Stanford Law School who closely follows Crispr, believes that Kavli reinforces Dr. Siksnys' claim for third place. In his opinion, he says, "these scientists were the first to understand that this system could be designed as a genome editing tool with ease, flexibility and precision that could not have been achieved before, I think that's what the Nobel will be" .

Still, David Pendlebury, an badyst at Clarivate Analytics, says other awards do not always tell the full story by predicting the Nobel. Since 2002, Clarivate has named 300 "Citation Laureate", scientists whose work is not worthwhile and whose works represent important advances that their peers cite regularly. The company has a good record with the prediction: 46 of the Citation Laureates have won a Nobel. In the field of Crispr, four scientists have received the Citation Laureate: Drs. Charpentier, Doudna and Zhang, and George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Church's team published a 2013 paper that demonstrates the use of Crispr to edit genes in human cells.

Awards such as the Kavli, awarded for the first time in 2008, begin partially in recognition of the Nobel's limits. There are more valuable scientists than they could possibly win, and some fields are so new that they are not eligible for the prize at all. The newer prizes also reflect the efforts of the scientific community to involve the public more.

Cori Bargmann,

a scientist from Rockefeller University and winner of a Kavli, compares the awards with an Oscar that leads people to see a movie they might have missed. As she says: "A prize for Crispr says that there is something really good out there, and people who are not scientists should learn about this because it could affect them, and very soon."

Write to Amy Dockser Marcus at [email protected]

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