Thursday, October 9, 2008

One of the Nobel Prize winners in Chemistry is a Chinese American

Osamu Shimomura, a Japanese citizen in the US, Martin Chalfie and Roger Y. Tsien from the US have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2008, announced the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm on Wednesday.

"The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has decided to award the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2008 jointly to Osamu Shimomura from Boston University Medical School, Martin Chalfie from Columbia University and Roger Y. Tsien from University of California in San Diego for the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein, GFP. " said Professor Gunnar Öquist, Permanent Secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences at the press conference.

According to the Nobel Prize Committee, the remarkable brightly glowing green fluorescent protein, GFP was first observed in the beautiful jellyfish, Aequorea Victoria by Shimomura in 1962.

This was the moment what the expert said "that made scientists' heart beat three times faster than normal".

Since then, this protein has become one of the most important tools used in contemporary bioscience. With the aid of GFP, researchers have developed ways to watch processes that were previously invisible, such as the development of nerve cells in the brain or how cancer cells spread.

This year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry rewards the initial discovery of GFP and a series of important developments which have led to its use as a tagging tool in bioscience. By using DNA technology, researchers can now connect GFP to other interesting but otherwise invisible proteins.

Researchers can also follow the fate of various cells with the help of GFP: nerve cell damage during Alzheimer's disease or how insulin-producing beta cells are created in the pancreas of a growing embryo.

Martin Chalfie demonstrated the value of GFP as a luminous genetic tag for various biological phenomena, according to the committee.

Roger Y. Tsien contributed to the general understanding of how GFP fluoresces. He also extended the colour 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.

Professor Lars Thelander from Umeå University, who is a member of the Nobel Prize Committee explained why the discovery is so important.

"It is a breakthrough in a sense that this is a new method to make it possible to study phenomenon inside of the living cell while it is alive. Earlier you have to crush the cell and then put it into a test tube and so on, now you can study your enzyme in living cells, and that makes it in a very good position in understanding things much better. Professor Tsien makes it easier to use for anyone. " said professor Thelander.

Although earlier there are already predictions and rumors that Professor Tsien who is a Chinese American and a kind of relative to Chinese famous Scientist Qian Xuesen, Tsien said he was not expected to have won the prize and was very surprised when he heard the news.

"Although there are rumors, we think the rumors are very questionable." He told the press conference through telephone.

Being asked about his relations with Qian Xuesen, he said he had never contacted the latter and he only heard of Qian from his grandpa that Qian is a great scientist and engineer in China.

About the impact of his winning of the prize upon Chinese, he said, "Well, although I am an entirely American, this may make them feel very proud and will inspire a lot of young people to study in science in China and the US".

Roger Y. Tsien was a US citizen and born in New York in 1952, the youngest winner among the three. He got his PhD in physiology in 1977 from Cambridge University and became professor at University of California, San Diego USA since 1989.

Osamu Shimomura was born in Kyoto in Japan in 1928, later moved to America and became professor at the Boston University Medical School.

Martin Chalfie was born in Chicago in 1947 and got his PhD in neurobiology in 1977 from Havard University. He is professor of Biological Sciences at Columbia University in New York.

The three scientists will equally share the 10 million kronor or 1.42 million US dollar prize and the issuing ceremony will be held on December 10 in Stockholm. Thursday the Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced and the Peace Prize on Friday in Oslo.

By Xuefei Chen People's Daily Online correspondent in Stockholm.

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