Last week the infamous “Ignoble Prize” went to scientists who studied how the crunch of potato chips improve their taste, investigated how income is related to the monthly cycles of lap dancers, and investigated how slime mold figures out how to solve Mazes.

But today’s actual genuine Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to three scientists who investigated glowing jelly fish.  And no, it’s not a joke.

This molecule is named (what else?) GFP: AKA Green Fluorescent Protein.

Three scientists share the prize:

Osamu Shimomura is a researcher at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), MA, and Boston University Medical School, first to isolate the GFP protein from a jellyfish…

He’s the one who found it glowed under a certain light.

Martin Chalfie established the importance of GFP as a luminous genetic tag for diverse biological phenomena.

He’s the one who figured out how you could stick this onto proteins and watch what they do and where they go.
This isn’t new, except in the past, most “markers” were on dead cells, and stuck there by antibodies, not those inside an animal being watched while they do their own thing.

Think of it as a tiny GPS tag that lets scientists spy on where you are going and what you are doing, inside a teeny tiny cell.

Roger Y. Tsien from the University of California, San Diego was able to contribute to how GFP fluoresces work. He also expanded the color palette beyond green, permitting researchers to furnish a range of proteins and cells with different colors. This facilitates the pursuit of several distinct biological processes at the same time.

He’s the one that made it fancy, so you could spy on several different proteins and watch for patterns and interactions of different proteins while living cells do their own thing. Again, it’s like cops watching a couple of bad guys at the same time using a tiny GPS tag.

One amusing use of all of this can be seen HERE

From Roger Tsien’s laboratory: of a SanDiego beach scene made from bacteria glowing in different colours on a petri dish.

All of this helps scientists figure out how cells work, and that will lead to a lot more breakthroughs in lots of different diseases.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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