Born in 1968 in Juvisy-sur-Orge in France, Emmanuelle Charpentier studied biochemistry, microbiology and genetics at the Pierre and Marie Curie University (UPMC) in Paris. She was graduate student at the Institut Pasteur from 1992 to 1995, and was awarded a research doctorate.
Charpentier worked as a University Teaching Assistant at UPMC in Paris from 1993 to 1995 and as a post-Doc at the Institut Pasteur from 1995 to 1996. She moved to the US and worked as post-Doc at the Rockefeller University in New York from 1996 to 1997. She worked as Assistant Research Scientist at the New York University Medical Center from 1997 to 1999 and in 1999 held the position of Research Associate at the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and at the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine in New York from 1999 to 2002.
After five years, she returned to Europe and became lab head and guest Professor at the Institute of Microbiology and Genetics, Vienna University from 2002 to 2004. From 2004 till 2006 she was lab head and assistant Professor at the Department of Microbiology and Immunobiology. In 2006 she became private docent (Microbiology) and received her habilitation at the Centre of Molecular Biology. From 2006 to 2009 she worked as lab head and associate Professor at the Max F. Perutz Laboratories.
She moved to Sweden and became lab head as well as associate Professor at the Laboratory for Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden (MIMS), at Umeå University. She held these positions from 2009 till 2014, and was promoted to lab head as visiting Professor in 2014. She moved to Germany to act as department head and W3 Professor at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research in Braunschweig and the Hannover Medical School from 2013 till 2015. 2014 she became an Alexander von Humboldt Professor.
In 2015 Charpentier accepted an offer from the German Max Planck Society to become scientific member and director of the new Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin. Charpentier retained her position as visiting professor at Umeå University, where a new donation from the Kempe Foundations and the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation has given her the opportunity to offer more young researchers positions within research groups of the MIMS Laboratory.
Charpentier is best known for her role in deciphering the molecular mechanisms of the bacterial CRISPR-Cas9 immune system and repurposing it into a tool for genome editing. In particular she uncovered the mechanism beyond the maturation of non-coding RNA key for the CRISPR-Cas9 function. In collaboration with Jennifer Doudna's laboratory, Charpentier's laboratory showed that Cas9 could be used to make cuts in any DNA sequence desired. The method they developed involved the combination of Cas9 with easily created synthetic "guide RNA" molecules. Researchers worldwide have employed this method successfully to edit the DNA sequences of plants, animals, and laboratory cell lines.
Charpentier has been awarded several international prizes, awards and acknowledgements, including the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, the Gruber Foundation International Prize in Genetics and the Leibniz Prize, Germany's most prestigious research prize. Also, in the Spring of 2015, Time Magazine designated Charpentier one of the 100 most influential people in the world (together with Jennifer Doudna). In spring 2017 she was elected foreign associate in The United States National Academy of Sciences
She has won the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award jointly with Jennifer Doudna and Francisco M. Mojica, whose pioneering work has ignited “the revolution in biology permitted by CRISPR/Cas 9 techniques.” These tools facilitate genome modification with an unprecedented degree of precision, and far more cheaply and straightforwardly than any previous method. Not unlike today’s simple, intuitive word processing programs, CRISPR/Cas 9 is able to “edit” the genome by “cutting and pasting” DNA sequences: a technology so efficient and powerful that it has spread like wildfire round the laboratories of the world, explains the jury, “as a tool to understand gene function and treat disease.”