Recurring Decimals…..

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Nobel for Fluorescent Proteins

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I don’t know how I managed to miss this significant bit of news till now (I can only blame the vagaries of traveling, even though I was connected most of the time): the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded for work on Green Fluorescent Proteins,and is shared by Osamu Shimomura, who originally isolated the protein from jellyfish, Martin Chalfie, who first expressed the protein in a bacteria, and Roger Tsien, who figured out a bit about how these proteins work and then greatly expanded the color palette of these proteins (in addition to his many other achievements in the field of molecular bio-sensors and cell biology).

The ‘GFP Nobel’ has been in the rumor mills for a few years now, and I believe it is fully deserved.  However, te cloud in the silver lining is the rather unfortunate story of Doug Prasher, who originally cloned the protein (ie was able to figure out the genetic code for the protein) but was unable to make glowing proteins in a recombinant system. He was the one who had provided the GFP DNA to both Chalfie and Tsien, because his grant at Woods Hole Institute had run out! What’s he doing now: driving a shuttle-bus for a car dealership in Huntsville, Alabama ! A hard lesson for all those of you in science right now.

Having worked with fluorescent proteins quite a bit, there is a sense of personal attachment to this year’s prize. Do check out an blog I had written about these light-emitting proteins last year. Here is an excerpt:

Among such tools, the discovery and use of fluorescent (light emitting) proteins, has proved to be a major boon for scientists investigating activities of genes and proteins inside cells. Fluorescence is an optical phenomenon, where a molecule absorbs photons of a particular color and thereafter emits photons of a different color – with the emitted color always red-shifted. While this phenomenon had been observed in living organisms, the molecules involved in the luminescence were unknown till the 1960s. In ‘62, Osamu Shimomura, a Princeton scientist investigating the phenomenon of bioluminescence, isolated a light-emitting protein from the jellyfish, Aequorea victoria, in the Padget Sound area of Washington state. This protein, named aequorin1, produced blue light – but only in presence of calcium. However, as a footnote in the publication of this discovery, Shimomura and co-worker mentioned “….a protein giving solutions that look slightly greenish in sunlight through only yellowish under tungsten lights, and exhibiting a very bright, greenish fluorescence in the ultraviolet of a Mineralite, has also been isolated…”. It was soon found that this ‘other protein’ was involved in absorbing the blue light from Aequerin and emitting the green light observed in the jellyfish. It was named appropriately, even if perhaps a little unimaginatively, the green fluorescent protein (GFP).

Written by BongoP'o'ndit

October 13, 2008 at 8:46 pm

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