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Martin Chalfie wins the Nobel Prize

Martin Chalfie wins the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for lighting up Cells.

The Department of Biological Sciences congratulates our Chairman, Dr. Martin Chalfie, on being awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of Green Fluorescent Protein.

Although Chalfie's paper describing the uses of GFP appeared only fourteen years ago (Chalfie et al., 1994), GFP has become a fundamental tool of cell biology, developmental biology, genetics, neurobiology, and the medical sciences. GFP is also the basis of many applications in industry. A measure of the impact of this research is that virtually no issue of any major biological journal is without an article that utilizes this protein or one of its derivatives.

The importance of GFP in the development of biological probes derives from several features of the molecule: GFP and its derivatives can be used with living cells and organisms (permitting examination of dynamic processes); 2) they require no additional substrate (only light to excite the fluorophore); 3) they exist as monomers (they do not form aggregates and thereby interfere with protein function); and 4) they are relatively small (they can diffuse throughout cells). These features have led to GFP being used to label myriad cells, cellular organelles, and proteins in living tissues. The impact of this research is not overstated by saying that it has caused a revolution in biology.

The impact and importance of GFP can also be seen in the fact that in the relatively short time since its introduction, researchers from around the world have modified it and greatly expanded its uses. Such modification include the generation of different color variants (or the discovery of fluorescent proteins from other organisms with different spectral properties), the production of pH, photoactivatable, and voltage-sensitive variants, and the generation of molecules that respond to calcium and changes in phosphorylation. These applications are reflected in the work of Dr. Roger Tsien who - together with Osamu Shimomura, discoverer of the jellyfish fluorescent properties - shared the Nobel award with Chalfie.

Columbia University Congratulates Professor Martin Chalfie