MBL, WOODS HOLE, MA Osamu Shimomura, a senior scientist emeritus and Corporation member at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of green fluorescent protein (GFP), one of the most important tools in contemporary science and medicine for illuminating life at the microscopic level.
Dr. Shimomura shares the prize, which was announced early today in Stockholm, with Martin Chalfie of Columbia University, New York, and Roger Y. Tsien of University of California, San Diego.
Dr. Shimomura, prior to his retirement, was an MBL senior scientist from 1982-2001. He first noticed a green fluorescing molecule in the jellyfish Aequorea in 1961. He patiently extracted the molecule from 10,000 specimens, purified it, and identified as a protein. The protein, he reported, fluoresces green when hit with ultraviolet light. Today, GFP is a guiding star for biochemists, medical scientists and other researchers. With the aid of GFP, researchers have developed ways to watch processes that were previously invisible, such as the development of nerve cells in the brain or how cancer cells spread.
"GFP technology has revolutionized what we can see at the most fundamental levels of life," says Gary Borisy, director and chief executive officer of the MBL and a prominent cell biologist. "GFP is revealing, for example, how proteins move and interact in cells. Now that the human genome is sequenced, understanding protein function is one of the greatest scientific and medical challenges of our time. "
The tremendous utility of GFP in probing the inner life of cells and their components was demonstrated by Chalfie, who in 1994 showed how GFP can be used as luminous genetic tag for various biological phenomena. When the gene for GFP is attached to the gene for some protein of interest, then when the cell makes the protein, it also makes the GFP, which "lights up" the protein and allow
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Marine Biological Laboratory