The Nobel Prize-winning discovery of the so-called ‘genetic scissors’ was made simultaneously in the laboratories of at least two universities in the world, including Vilnius University. Scientists Emmanuelle Charpentier from the Max Planck Institute in Berlin and Jennifer Doudna from the University of California won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering and developing the CRISP-Cas9 gene-editing tool.
However, this technology was also discovered and developed by Prof. Virginijus Šikšnys when he independently demonstrated that DNA-cutting by the Cas9 protein can be used for programmed genome editing in 2012. He received the Warren Alpert Prize from Harvard University for his discovery and even won the prestigious Kavli prize alongside his above-mentioned colleagues, who eventually won the Nobel Prize. Prof. Virginijus Šikšnys is still dedicated to advancing genome editing technology and hopes that his discovery will help treat genetic diseases worldwide in the coming years.
Prof. Virginijus Šikšnys | Photo by E. Kurauskas
The sculpture depicts the CRISPR-Cas9 technology, which is also called genetic scissors. The sculpture symbolises both the technology itself – a part of one organism is inserted into the DNA chain of another one – and the evolution of life. However, it doesn’t strive for scientific accuracy; instead it expresses an emotional response to the importance of V. Šikšnys’ discovery. The sculpture also serves to inspire curiosity that can lead to the development of new applications for the genetic scissors to improve our lives – from treating genetic diseases to producing allergy-free foods and greener fuels, and much more. Eglė Žvirblytė, the artist behind the sculpture, is closely connected to biotechnology, too – her parents are well-known biotechnologists. The artist wants her work to challenge people to ask questions that can lead to the next great discovery.
Vilnius is among the global leaders in the life sciences and is well-positioned to continue developing in this field. New facilities, EU funding, strategic partnerships between scientific institutions and companies, and talented professionals are putting Vilnius on the map as an innovator in the life sciences.
Moreover, the European Laboratory of Molecular Biology (EMBL) is opening its next partner institute at the LSC, making Vilnius home to its sixth laboratory for the life sciences. Ground-breaking discoveries made in Vilnius have already shaken the world and teams of life scientists are currently driving new developments in the fields of nanobiotechnology and biosensors, as well as conducting research in the field of physical chemistry.