Thursday, October 9, 2008

Chinese Shared Nobel Prize in Chemistry

The three winners of the Nobel Prize for chemistry are (from right) Roger Tsien of the University of California, San Diego; Osamu Shimomura, a Japanese citizen who works at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass.; and Martin Chalfie of Columbia University. AP

NPR provided the most concise report on this years Nobel Prize in Chemistry:

“Three scientists who created a method for unveiling the previously invisible machinery inside living cells, using a protein that glows in the dark, won the 2008 Nobel Prize for chemistry.

The winners are Osamu Shimomura, a Japanese citizen who works at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass.; Martin Chalfie of New York's Columbia University; and Roger Tsien of the University of California, San Diego.”

“In the 1960s, Shimomura isolated what became known as the ‘green fluorescent protein,’ or GFP, from a kind of jellyfish. This protein glows bright green when it is exposed to ultraviolet light.


“Thirty years later, when scientists developed tools for cutting and splicing genes, Chalfie took the gene that produces this glowing substance and inserted it into cells of other living creatures, starting with bacteria. He was able to use this inserted gene as an easily detected tag, or visual marker. By attaching it to other genes, he was able to make specific proteins inside living cells glow green under ultraviolet light .

“Scientists cannot normally observe the complex dance of proteins that forms the basis of life, but GFP opened up a previously invisible world, revealing a wealth of detail about where, and how, those proteins work.

Nancy Kedersha

“Tsien expanded the technique, creating an entire toolbox of glowing genes. He tinkered with the GFP gene, creating new versions that glow cyan, blue and yellow. This allows researchers to tag different proteins with distinctive colors and observe their interactions.”

Most English speaking papers did not report on the fact that Tsien is of Chinese decent and is the nephew of the famous Tsien Hsue-shen 錢學森 who was the co-founder of JPL Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. Iris Chang who wrote Nanking wrote a book called Thread of The Silkworm about Tsien Hsue-shen.

Roger Tsien 錢永健 was born in New York, in 1952. Both of Tsien's parents came from Zhejiang Province, China.

From the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Website:

"Tsien has always been drawn to pretty colors. 'Your science should ideally feed the deeper parts of your personality, to provide some intrinsic pleasure to tie you over the inevitable periods of discouragement,' he says. Tsien grew up among a number of engineers in his extended family, and even from a young age he seemed destined for a career in science. Childhood asthma often kept Tsien indoors, where he spent hours conducting chemistry experiments in his basement laboratory and was first exposed to the chemistry of pretty colors. At 16, he won top prize in the nationwide Westinghouse Talent Search. He later attended Harvard College on a National Merit Scholarship, graduating at age 20 with a degree in chemistry and physics."

From the Marshal Scholarship Website:

"Roger Tsien attended Harvard University on a National Merit Scholarship and graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry and physics in 1972. After completing his bachelor's degree, he joined the Physiological Laboratory at the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England with the aid of a Marshall Scholarship. He received his Ph.D in physiology from the University of Cambridge in 1977 and was a Research Fellow in Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge from 1977 to 1981."

Notable Nobel Laureates at HHMI included Eric Kandel (2000-Medicine).

Here is a slide show from the WSJ Blog. Fascinating.

Links: Tsien Website, HHMI

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