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Rodolphe Barrangou, the Todd R. Klaenhammer Distinguished Scholar in Probiotics Research and Associate Professor in the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences, North Carolina State University, will receive the 2017 NAS Award in Molecular Biology.
Beginning with their landmark paper in 2007, Barrangou and his collaborators’ discovery that bacteria have adaptive immune systems has catalyzed the manipulation of the CRISPR-Cas9 pathway for genome engineering.
The paper illustrated the discovery that bacteria capture and integrate new DNA sequences called “spacers” into a feature of their genome called clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPRs). The CRISPR, they discovered, work together with cas (CRISPR-associated) genes to provide specific resistance and adaptive immunity against viruses. In subsequent studies, they characterized the genetic and molecular basis for processes that direct Cas9-mediated targeting and cleavage of viral and plasmid DNA by bacteria. The worldwide attention devoted to this discovery led to the expansion of investigations into CRISPRs and their associated Cas proteins, allowing researchers to address questions of bacterial survival, population diversity and evolutionary dynamics. Through all of this, Barrangou has continued to lead the field of CRISPR research and the practical application of bacterial adaptive immunity in food fermentation and a way to eventually improve human health.
The NAS Award in Molecular Biology is supported by Pfizer Inc. and recognizes a recent notable discovery by a young scientist (defined as no older than 45) who is a citizen of the United States. The award is presented with a medal and a $25,000 prize.