Martin Chalfie, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Biological Sciences, has received the 2006 Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Science. Chalfie shares the award with Roger Tsien of the University of California, San Diego.
“For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of biological research is making connections between very different sets of scientific observations,” says Chalfie. “The work for which I was recognized by the Rosenstiel Award was one such connection.”
Chalfie was studying genes and their expression in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, a transparent animal, when he heard about a fluorescent protein in jellyfish called the green fluorescent protein (GFP). He wondered whether GFP could be used as a biological tag to study when and where genes were expressed, where proteins resided and how they moved within cells, and how cells and tissues changed during development in living organisms.
They could. The combination of fluorescence and transparent animals proved winning, and GFP, its derivatives, and similar fluorescent proteins have become among the most important tools in cell biology, neurobiology, developmental biology, and genetics.
“The Rosenstiel Award recognizes the development of this very useful tool and the very valuable modifications and novel uses made by others,” Chalfie adds. “In addition, in these days of increasing calls for ‘translational’ research, GFP serves as a reminder that applications are based on essential basic research.”
Rosenstiel awards are given to scientists for recent discoveries of particular originality and importance to basic medical research. They are presented annually on the basis of recommendations of a panel of outstanding scientists selected by the Rosenstiel Basic Medical Sciences Research Center.
Chalfie and Tsien will each receive $10,000 and a medallion.