Field of Science

Lindau: the glowing joy of discovery



Last year's chemistry Nobel Prize was one of the most softball predictions ever made for the Nobel Prize. The Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) has become so widely used in chemistry, biology and medicine that it is easy to forget that someone had to discover it and develop the technology. Every year Roger Tsien's name used to be on everybody's favorite candidate list along with Martin Chalfie's and Osamu Shimomura's. Then last year, he along with Shimomura and Chalfie finally put the tortuous process and spilling of ink to rest.

A post about GFP is a writer's dream for indulging in pretty pictures. I will restrict myself to two. GFP has become a poster boy for the science of biotechnology. Its barrel shaped ß-sheet structure shown above has become iconic in the scientific world. This is most emblematic in the odd and many varieties of glowing animals that now grace the covers of everything from scientific journals to websites and children's textbooks. If as some have predicted, we happen to "domesticate" biotechnology in the next few decades, it is very likely that one of the first things that our children would do would be to produce glowing pet rabbits, dogs, mice and cats. Along with a few other icons like DNA and the fruit fly, the image of glowing animals and fluorescent proteins is now deeply ensconced in our imagination as an example of what humans can do by manipulating biological systems. Perhaps one day our children can become friends with transgenic, green, glowing human beings, without the hulk-like physique and temper tantrums...


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