NC State’s Barrangou Wins Canada Gairdner Award

Rodolphe Barrangou receives a Gairdner International Award. Photo by Bill Baverstock.

Rodolphe Barrangou, an NC State professor and pioneer of the discovery of the adaptive bacterial immune system known as CRISPR, has been named a recipient of the 2016 Canada Gairdner International Award, one of the world’s most esteemed medical research prizes.

Barrangou is one of seven researchers receiving Canada Gairdner Awards this year, and one of five associated with CRISPR research. He and Philippe Horvath, a senior scientist at DuPont, will receive the Gairdner International Award “for establishing and characterizing CRISPR-Cas bacterial immune defense system.”

Three other winners – Emmanuelle Charpentier, Jennifer Doudna and Feng Zhang – will receive Gairdner International Awards “for development of CRISPR-Cas as a genome editing tool for eukaryotic cells.”

The prize comes with a cash award of $100,000 (Canadian).

This is the second major award announcement for Barrangou in the past month; he was named a recipient of a Warren Alpert Foundation Prize in early March.

“The Canada Gairdner Awards distinguish Canada as a leader in biomedical research, raising the profile of science both nationally and on the world stage,” said Dr. John Dirks, president and scientific director of the Gairdner Foundation. “This year’s International winners are an exceptional example of the future of gene editing which is taking the research world by storm.”

Barrangou, associate professor of food, bioprocessing and nutrition sciences and the Todd R. Klaenhammer Distinguished Scholar in Probiotics Research at NC State, focuses on understanding the genetic basis for health-promoting and fermentative properties of beneficial bacteria used in foods.

His work has shown that CRISPR systems defend bacteria against unwanted invaders. Barrangou is mostly concerned with CRISPR-Cas systems that use Cas9 proteins as scalpels to cleave away foreign DNA. Possible applications include genome editing, antibacterial and antimicrobial production, food safety, food production and plant breeding.

While working at Danisco, a food ingredients company, Barrangou, Horvath and colleagues published a seminal CRISPR paper in the journal Science in 2007. That paper showed that CRISPR is an adaptive immune system that can acquire genetic snapshots of bacterial virus attacks.

Barrangou joined the NC State faculty in 2013. He received the 2014 NC State Alumni Association Outstanding Research Award and the 2015 NC State Faculty Scholars Award. He has been on the Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researchers list in 2014 and 2015. Barrangou is on the board of directors of Caribou Biosciences, and a co-founder and member of the scientific advisory board of Intellia Therapeutics.

Barrangou earned his bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from the Rene Descartes University in Paris, France; a master’s degree in biological engineering from the University of Technology in Compiegne, France; a master’s degree in food science and a Ph.D. in genomics from NC State; and a MBA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Two non-CRISPR-related Gairdner Awards will be given to Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and to Frank Plummer of the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The Canada Gairdner Awards will be presented at a dinner in Toronto on Oct. 27, 2016 as part of the Gairdner National and Student Outreach Programs, a two-week lecture series given by Canada Gairdner Award winners at more than 22 universities.

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. Of the more than 320 recipients, 83 have subsequently won the Nobel Prize in medicine.

– kulikowski –