60-Second Science

How Green Was the Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Japan's Osamu Shimomura and Americans Martin Chalfie and Roger Tsien share the Nobel Prize for the discovery and development of green fluorescent protein, GFP, which makes it possible to light up and see biological processes in cells and whole organisms. Steve Mirsky reports

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

The Nobel Prize in chemistry goes to three men who revolutionized molecular life science, Japan’s Osamu Shimomura and Americans Martin Chalfie and Roger Tsien. They developing tools to light up and see individual proteins inside living cells. These tiny molecular flashlights make it possible to study numerous events that take place in cells and whole organisms that were previously invisible—such as the development of nerve cells or the spread of cancer cells.

In 1962 Shimomura, now emeritus professor at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, discovered that jellyfish produce a green fluorescent protein, GFP, that glows when exposed to ultraviolet light. Some 30 years later, Columbia University’s Chalfie showed that the GFP gene could be put into any organism. By making sure the fluorescent protein was expressed at the same time as other proteins of interest, researchers could literally light up events they want to follow. Then Tsien, at the University of California, San Diego, engineered fluorescent proteins in various colors. The multicolor palette enables researchers to follow multiple biological processes at the same time.

—Steve Mirsky 

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