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A Girl's Guide to Jennifer Doudna

Fewer than 30% of the world's researchers are women. While the demographics are shifting, it's clear that many women, for whatever reason, aren't pursuing careers in STEM. This could be due to accessibility, workplace pressure, societal pressure, and many other potential factors.

This is why, when there's a notable female scientist, it's such a huge deal. Women have to work harder to make names for themselves in STEM, but that effort can pay off.

Jennifer Doudna is one such woman. But what did she do? What made her famous?

Read on to learn all about this impressive woman in STEM.

Who Is Jennifer Doudna?

Jennifer Doudna won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2020. She's also a professor of biophysics, structural biology, and biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley. For girls and women interested in entering the STEM fields, she's an inspiration.

Jennifer Doudna is one of the top female scientists of her time. She's partially responsible for discovering the power of the CRISPR gene editing tool, which is a major breakthrough for science.

Early Years

Jennifer Doudna was born on February 19, 1964 in Washington, D.C.

While she was born in the mainland United States, at age seven, her parents moved her to Hilo, Hawaii. Her parents were local college professors, so she grew up with an innate love of learning that was passed down to her.

In Hilo, Doudna developed a natural curiosity for the world around her. While she felt like a social outcast, she found comfort in science and math, and started pursuing them seriously even as a child and teenager.

When a female scientist spoke at her high school, she realized that women were beyond capable of being incredible researchers and scientists. It was then that her interest developed into a passion and she decided that she, too, wanted to be a scientist when she grew up.

She took a job as a teenager in a biology lab where she started working hands-on in the field that would later make her a household name in the science world.

Education and Early Career

After high school, Doudna's interest in science didn't wane. She moved back to the mainland after being accepted into Pomona College in California, where she began to study biochemistry so she could start following her dreams of becoming a scientist.

After doing well at Pomona College, she went on to pursue her Ph.D. at Harvard. She was focusing her research on RNA, a nuclear acid that's present in all living cells (yes, even the ones in your body).

It acts as a messenger in the body. This research would later lead to her major discovery.

After finishing school at Harvard, she continued to learn. She did post-doctoral research at the University of Colorado. She continued her work with RNA, and ended up doing something that was previously unheard of: she mapped the structure of an RNA molecule with X-ray diffraction.

It became clear from this point that her research was going to put her on the map.

While doing her own research, Jennifer Doudna took a position at Yale. Then, she moved on to a career at the University of California, Berkeley, where she would make her major discovery.

Her Big Breakthrough

After taking a position at the University of California in Berkeley in 2002, Jennifer continued her research on DNA and RNA. In 2005, something interesting happened. She was pursuing an interest in genes called CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) that exist in some bacteria to help them fight off viruses and trying to figure out how they do their job.

She partnered with a French geneticist, Emmanuelle Charpentier. Together, they continued researching CRISPR and discovered that it could be used to edit genes.

As a matter of fact, they were able to create a tool that edited genes like a word processor edits text. It could snip off genes in a strand and add new genes in their place.

This was an amazing discovery for science. Scientists are now able to rewrite genes in ways that were never before possible. The implications this has for the future are incredible.

What Is CRISPR For?

So why is CRISPR so incredible?

At this point, we're still in the early stages of seeing what scientists can do with CRISPR, but it's already promising. People are making better and more efficient medicines, creating stronger and sturdier crops that resist drought and disease.

As far as human implications go, scientists are trying to see if they can use CRISPR to prevent or cure serious terminal conditions such as muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis.

This discovery was well worth the Nobel Prize that Jennifer Doudna received for it.

There are, of course, potential issues with the discovery that Doudna herself has expressed concerns about. It is possible that in the future, people will be "designing" their babies to create "designer humans." While this has the potential to cure disease and prevent a lot of suffering, the implications are worrying.

It's also possible to create genetic errors.

Because of this, Doudna started speaking out about her concerns and has insisted that more research is necessary before scientists use these tools on human eggs and sperm.

Jennifer Doudna: An Inspiration for Female Scientists

Jennifer Doudna has done incredible things for modern science, and she's still working hard to continue making discoveries and inspiring other young scientists to do the same. Her contributions will change the future, and they may even lead to a world that's free from disease.

Is your daughter interested in STEM? Whether she's a future researcher or just a curious budding science-lover, our Rocket Girls books are sure to delight her.

Check out our merchandise shop and sign up to receive the Rocket Girls newsletter today. And remember, you are made of star stuff!

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