This year four of six prizes went to RNA researchers. Crazy Gary Ruvkun (Harvard) and Victor Ambros were recognized for their work discovering miRNAs in nematodes. (Again, the debate could be raised of how plant researchers who studied PTGS in the early 1990’s might ever be recognized for their critical contributions to early small RNA discoveries.) At a symposium celebrating this year’s prizes, held at Stanford on Monday, Gary was classic Gary, at one point in responding to a question about his mentoring of trainees, declaring, “I should just quote Charles Barkley, who said, ‘I ain’t no role model’.”
The rich tech guys scooped the Swedes in honoring Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier for their work on CRISPR. It’s only a matter of time, of course, before a Nobel honors CRISPR, but the Breakthrough Prize committee has clearly wasted no time in recognizing its importance for biology and medicine today and into the future. They know a breakthrough when they see one.
And regarding the elaborate awards ceremony held within a bedazzled Hanger 1 at the NASA Ames Research Center—in the heart of Silicon Valley—French Laundry catering, Seth MacFarlane hosting, Cameron Diaz and Benedict Cumberbatch pleasing the masses/cumberbitches? Pretty different style than those staid Nobels. I guess there’s a new role model in town.