In order to keep a fresh perspective on her research, Emmanuelle Charpentier, changes her working environment frequently. Studying biochemistry and microbiology at the Pierre and Marie Curie University before earning her doctorate from the Institute Pasteur in 1995, she spent a year as a post-doctoral researcher at the institute. After which she traveled to the United States to work in a variety of settings including Rockefeller University, New York University Medical Center, and St. Jude Children’s Hospital.
She returned to Europe working as a professor and researcher making her way to Sweden in 2009. It was while she was working as Lab Head and Associate Professor at the Laboratory for Molecular Infection Medicine at Umeå University that she was leading a team studying the bacteria streptococcus pyogenes in order to understand how it can defend itself from viral attack. When a virus enters a bacteria cell its goal is to replicate and spread and will destroy the bacteria cell to do so. To combat this attack bacteria have an adaptive immune system that allows them to recognize infectious DNA and instead of repeating this new code it cleaves it from its genetic material completely.
In April 2011 she approached biochemist, Jennifer Doudna, to propose a collaboration to study this mechanism known as clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, specifically CRISPR/Cas9. In 2012 they published their first paper describing their technique of gene editing which Charpentier has described as acting like Swiss army knife that allows the repair of genes. Not only can CRISPR/Cas9 cleave DNA but it can be used to study both the expression of genes and the modification of genes as well as help our understanding of epigenetic markers. Since the publication of their findings biochemists have begun working with the mechanism in many fields including agriculture and human medicine.
In 2015 she, along with Dounda, was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people. She was awarded the Breakthrough prize and while remaining a visiting professor at Umeå University, she became a Scientific Member and Director at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, Germany.
Written by Angela Goad