DuPont researcher wins Canada’s top science prize

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Philippe HorvathDuPont Senior Scientist Philippe Horvath has been honored with the Canada Gairdner International Award, Canada’s leading science prize, for his groundbreaking work on CRISPR-Cas.

CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) is a  naturally existing feature in bacteria that offers protection against viruses.

Horvath shares the award with Jennifer Doudna, University of California, Berkeley; Emmanuelle Charpentier, Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, Berlin; Rodolphe Barrangou, North Carolina State University; and Feng Zhang, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Eighty-three of Gairdner Award recipients have gone on to win the Nobel Prize.

Horvath, based at DuPont’s site in Dangé-Saint-Romain, France, is the first DuPont scientist to receive the Canada Gairdner International Award.  Earlier this month, he was announced as a 2016 Warren Alpert Foundation Prize winner. He received the 2015 Massry Prize in October.

Beginning in the early 2000s, Horvath and colleagues initially used CRISPR for bacterial identification, then for its ability to improve the resistance of starter culture strains against bacteriophage attack. The discoveries opened new research avenues, laying the groundwork and inspiring numerous scientists to pursue the CRISPR field.

“Scientific discovery is the basis of innovation. It provides knowledge, enables new inventions and inspires learning in new directions that lead to solutions for the world’s most difficult challenges,” said DuPont Senior Vice President and Chief Science & Technology Officer Douglas Muzyka.

“Philippe’s early discoveries were foundational to the potential for CRISPR-Cas to address challenges in a range of scientific fields.  The magnitude of his contributions epitomizes what it means to innovate at DuPont, and we are very proud to be associated with his receiving the Gairdner Award.”

“I am honored to receive the Canada Gairdner International Award on behalf of DuPont and my colleagues,” said Horvath.  “Our work has and will continue to have a significant impact, notably in the fight against viral infections during food fermentations. It is obvious that the biotechnological tools for genome editing, derived from the natural CRISPR-Cas system, provide the greatest opportunities in fields such as plant improvement and gene therapy.”

DuPont is a leader in the CRISPR area, with about 60 patents and applications and more than 30 published scientific articles and book chapters.

The company uses  CRISPR in at least two distinct ways:

  • DuPont Nutrition & Health takes advantage of the native CRISPR-Cas system to select, through a fully natural process, bacteria that are immunized against bacteriophages. The natural immunization process does not involve gene editing technologies. The use of starter cultures containing such immunized bacteria ultimately improves the quality and safety of fermented dairy foods.
  • DuPont Pioneer utilizes CRISPR-derived tools for genome editing applications, and recently announced collaborations with Caribou Biosciences, a leading developer of CRISPR-Cas technologies for genome editing, and Vilnius University, a research leader in the field.
  • The genome editing technology is capable of making exact changes to the DNA of many organisms. In plants, this editing capability can be applied to promote drought tolerance and disease resistance to protect plant health and increase crop yields. It also can eliminate food allergens and improve the nutrient composition of plant-derived oils.

DuPont scientists were among the first to understand how the CRISPR system works in bacteria. The RNA-guided Cas9 protein is one of several CRISPR-derived tools and differs from the natural CRISPR process used to identify and immunize bacteria.

The Canada Gairdner Awards will be presented on Oct. 27, 2016, at the Royal Ontario Museum. The Canada Gairdner Awards were created in 1959 to recognize and reward the achievements of medical researchers whose work contributes significantly to improving the quality of human life.

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