October 9, 2008

Study of Jellyfish Protein Brings Acclaim to 3 Scientists in U.S.


By Malcolm Ritter

The Associated Press


Three U.S.-based scientists won a Nobel Prize on Wednesday for turning a glowing green protein from jellyfish into a revolutionary way to watch the tiniest details of life within cells and living creatures.

Osamu Shimomura, a Japanese citizen who works in the United States, and Americans Martin Chalfie and Roger Tsien shared the chemistry prize for discovering and developing green fluorescent protein, or GFP.

When exposed to ultraviolet light, the protein glows green. It can act as a marker on otherwise invisible proteins within cells to trace them as they go about their business. It can tag individual cells in tissue. And it can show when and where particular genes turn on and off.

Researchers worldwide now use GFP to track development of brain cells, tumor growth and the spread of cancer cells. It has let them study nerve cell damage from Alzheimer's disease and see how insulin- producing beta cells arise in the pancreas of a growing embryo, for example.

In awarding the prize, the Royal Swedish Academy compared the impact of GFP on science to the invention of the microscope. The academy called the protein "a guiding star " for scientists.

GFP's chemical cousins produce other colors, which let scientists follow multiple cells or proteins simultaneously.

"This is a technology that has literally transformed medical research," said Dr. John Frangioni, an associate professor of medicine and radiology at Harvard Medical School. "For the first time, scientists could study both genes and proteins in living cells" and in animals.

Last year, in what the Nobel citation called a "spectacular experiment," Harvard researchers tagged brain cells in mice with some 90 colors with a technique called "Brainbow."

GFP was discovered by Shimomura at Princeton University. He'd been seeking the protein that lets a certain kind of jellyfish glow green around its edge. In the summer of 1961, he and a colleague processed tissue from about 10,000 jellyfish. The next year, they reported the finding of GFP.

Some 30 years later, Chalfie showed that the GFP gene could make individual nerve cells in a tiny worm glow bright green.

Tsien developed GFP-like proteins that extended the scientific palette of colors. Tsien "really made it a tool that was extremely useful to lots of people," Chalfie told reporters.

Shimomura, 80, now works at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., and the Boston University Medical School. Chalfie, 61, is a professor at Columbia University in New York. Tsien, 56, is a professor at the University of California, San Diego, and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The trio will split the $1.4 million award.

Originally published by BY MALCOLM RITTER.

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