Friday, May 6, 2011

Fluorescent Proteins Part 1: Osamu Shimomura

This is the first post of a three-part series on fluorescent proteins and neurobiology. The second part is on the genetic mutations these proteins underwent and the third is on a spectacular use of them... the Brainbow! There will be shiny pictures, I promise.

You remember when I said there'd be more science around the blog? Well, it starts today and continues next week, with a short serie on neurophotonics.

Our first topic is Osamu Shimomura, recipient of the 2008 Chemistry Nobel Prize (with two others) and finder of the first green fluorescent protein.

This guy!
Let's have a little history!

Back in the 1962, a molecular and marine biologist, Osamu Shimomura, discovered and isolated a fluorescent protein from the jellyfish Aequorea victoria. He might not have realised it back then, but this discovery would one day push neurology into a new era.

Osamu Shimomura has an interesting history, which is why he gets his own post. He lived in Isahaya, Nagasaki in 1945, 15 miles from the atomic bomb's epicenter. He was 16 at the time. Apparently, the bomb's explosion blinded him for thirty seconds, and he was later drenched by the bomb's "black rain" fallout. I don't know for you, but it feels crazy to think that if he'd been, say, visiting Nagasaki that day, neurology wouldn't be half as advanced as it is today.

At the same time, if the bomb had not been dropped, Shimomura might never have gone into sciences. To this day, he recalls having no interest in the subject at the time. In post-war Japan, however, you don't have that many educational choices. The bomb had destroyed the Nagasaki Medical College, forcing the pharmacy school to move... at a campus near his home. He joined, got his degree, and from there continued to the Nagasaki University, where he met his wife.

Life, huh?

His work with fluorescent protein was noticed by an american professor, Frank Johnson, who invited to Princeton to join his team in 1960.

Despite being found in 1962, it wasn't until the early 90s that biochemists began to realise the green fluorescent proteins' potential as a research tool.

But that's for next week! You can expect many cool pictures of fluorescent madness. What they do with these proteins is outright crazy.


  1. That's really neat. I've seen flourescent proteins everywhere, and even used some myself in labs, but didn't ever know anything about the guy who figured all that out.

  2. Speaking of turning flourescent green today...I think I'm totally channeling Osamu today. :-)

  3. I wouldn't quite say he figured it all out, SB. He found the protein and managed to isolate it. The two other guys who worked the rest of this story out will be presented next week.

    Sommer, I really hope that doesn't mean you are getting sick. :P

  4. Amazing how tiny coincidences shape our lives! Fascinating series, thanks! :-)