Press Statement from NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.
NIH Grantees Win 2008 Nobel Prize in
Chemistry for the Discovery and Development of the Green Fluorescent
The 2008 Nobel Prize in chemistry is shared by two NIH grantees,
Martin Chalfie, Ph.D., of Columbia University and Roger Y. Tsien,
Ph.D., of the University of California at San Diego. The two researchers
share the award with a former NIH grantee, Osamu Shimomura, Ph.D.,
of the Marine Biology Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA. The three researchers
are honored for discovering a fluorescent protein, GFP, in a colorful
jellyfish and developing it into a key tool for observing previously
invisible processes, such as the development of nerve cells in
the brain or how cancer cells spread.
By using DNA technology, researchers can now connect GFP to other
interesting, but otherwise invisible proteins. This glowing marker
allows them to watch the movements, positions and interactions
of the targeted proteins.
"I am glad that these seminal discoveries were recognized
by the Nobel committee. It is imperative for researchers to map
and understand the role of different proteins and their interactions
real time in the body," said NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni,
M.D. "Understanding how this protein machinery malfunctions
will increase our knowledge about potential causes of illness and
disease and perhaps lead to better treatments."
The NIH's National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
began supporting the work of Shimomura in 1979 and Chalfie and
Tsien in 1982. Over the years, NIGMS has provided more than $18
million in support of the three scientists. In addition, the NIH's
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
has provided more than $8 million to support the research of Dr.
Tsien, who received NINDS' Javits Award for the work cited by the
Nobel committee. Dr. Tsien has also received support from the National
Eye Institute. Dr. Chalfie has also received support from the National
Institute on Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Institute
on Aging. The NIH has provided a total of more than $29 million
to the three researchers.
"The discovery and development of GFP was literally a green light
for biological research, enabling scientists to quickly visualize
gene expression, protein movement, and other critical processes
with great clarity in living cells," said NIGMS Director Jeremy
M. Berg, Ph.D. "GFP rapidly became an essential piece of the scientific
toolbox, paving the way for an explosion of groundbreaking studies
that significantly advanced our understanding of health and disease.
It is impossible to understate the impact of these investigators' work
on scientific progress."
Osamu Shimomura first isolated GFP from the jellyfish Aequorea
victoria, which drifts with the currents off the west coast of
North America. He discovered that this protein glowed bright green
under ultraviolet light.
Martin Chalfie demonstrated the value of GFP as a luminous genetic
tag for various biological phenomena. In one of his first experiments,
he colored six individual cells in the transparent roundworm Caenorhabditis
elegans with the aid of GFP.
Roger Y. Tsien contributed to our general understanding of how
GFP fluoresces. He also extended the color palette beyond green
allowing researchers to give various proteins and cells different
colors. This enables scientists to follow several different biological
processes at the same time.
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