Barrangou Wins Warren Alpert Foundation Prize

Rodolphe Barrangou. 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 Warren Alpert Foundation Prize.

The prize comes with a cash award of $500,000, to be divided equally among Barrangou and four other recipients who have contributed “to the understanding of the CRISPR bacterial defense system and the revolutionary discovery that it can be powerfully adapted for genome editing.” Winners will be honored at a symposium at Harvard Medical School on Oct. 6.

“The game-changing insights achieved by these five scientists led to a technique that has been swiftly embraced across the globe, altering the way we study and understand eukaryotic genetics and offering enormous potential for developing new gene- and cell-based therapies, including treatment strategies for previously intractable genetic diseases,” said Jeffrey S. Flier, dean of the faculty of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chair of the Warren Alpert Foundation Prize Scientific Advisory Committee.

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 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.

“I am absolutely delighted and honored to receive the Warren Alpert Foundation Prize,” Barrangou said. “It has been enjoyable to observe firsthand the evolution of the CRISPR field in the past decade, and seeing the field evolve from the humble beginnings of CRISPR analysis in dairy cultures to driving the genome-editing craze has been fantastic. I am thankful to the Warren Alpert Foundation and to the prize selection committee for their consideration, and I look forward to further serving the CRISPR community.”

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.

The Warren Alpert Foundation Prize recognizes scientists whose research has led to the prevention, cure or treatment of human diseases or disorders and constitutes a seminal scientific finding that holds great promise for ultimately changing our understanding of, or ability to treat, disease.

The late Warren Alpert, a philanthropist dedicated to advancing biomedical research, established the prize in 1987. To date, the foundation has awarded more than $3 million to 54 individuals. Eight honorees have also received a Nobel Prize.

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