August 27th marked the birthday of Osamu Shimomura, the organic chemist who discovered green fluorescent protein in 1962. Green fluorescent protein (GFP) is basically what it sounds like: a protein that can emit a green glow. It’s one of the proteins responsible for the almost-unearthly luminescence of some marine organisms (including jellyfish, hydroids, and corals).
Dr. Shimomura first isolated GFP, along with a protein called aequorin, in the crystal jellyfish, Aequorea victoria, which is found off the western coast of North America. GFP has gone on to revolutionize the field of biology.
In 1994, it was discovered that the protein’s coding sequence could be inserted into the genome of other organisms, causing cells to glow when specific genes are active.This allows us to see, quite literally, what role these genes play in an organism’s development, which has extraordinary implications for research related to cancer and viruses, in addition to helping us better understand the basic molecular processes of life. For his discovery and early work with GFP, Dr. Shimomura was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2008. Happy birthday, Dr. Shimomura!