Barrangou, Rodolphe 2018 Food and Agriculture Sciences

Barrangou, Rodolphe 2018 Food and Agriculture Sciences

Rodolphe Barrangou, North Carolina State University, received the 2018 NAS Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences.

Barrangou’s groundbreaking research established CRISPR as the adaptive immune system of bacteria, a discovery which promoted the practical use of CRISPR-Cas systems for genome editing. The work has tremendous worldwide applications in food and agriculture, including virus resistance in the widely used yogurt starter culture Streptococcus thermophilus and the potential for translational genome editing in other microbes, crops, and livestock.

Starting with their landmark paper in 2007, Barrangou and his collaborators illustrated 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. The worldwide attention devoted to this discovery allowed researchers to address questions of bacterial survival, population diversity, and evolutionary dynamics. Other subsequent studies unraveled the mechanistic basis for the Cas nucleases mode of action.

In the years since, Barrangou has remained at the forefront of CRISPR-related research. He led the first major practical application of these discoveries, an effort to guide adaptive virus immunity in yogurt and cheese starter cultures and helped solve an industrial problem that affects millions of gallons of milk around the world every day. Barrangou also showed that adaptive immunity can target plasmids and functions by cleaving DNA.

Through all of this, he has also led the growth of this field through teaching, lecturing, serving on scientific advisory boards, and co-organizing many of the annual CRISPR biology meetings that arose immediately following the publication of his groundbreaking paper.

The NAS Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences recognizes research by a mid-career scientist (defined as up to 20 years since completion of Ph.D.) at a U.S. institution who has made an extraordinary contribution to agriculture or to the understanding of the biology of a species fundamentally important to agriculture or food production. The prize is endowed through generous gifts from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The NAS Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences is presented with a medal and a $100,000 prize.


Watch Barrangou's Acceptance Speech »

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