La Jollan wins Nobel Prize


UCSD’s Tsien shares honor for chemistry

For his pioneering work using fluorescent molecules originally derived from jellyfish to illuminate the inner workings of cells UCSD professor Roger Tsien has been named a co-recipient of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

In accepting his Nobel Prize at a news conference on campus last week, Tsien paid homage to the lowly jellyfish, which, he said, “has been doing this for millions of years though we still don’t know why. We can only speculate.

We haven’t figured out a way to ask a jellyfish.”

Tsien, a La Jolla resident, has dedicated his career to developing and applying fluorescent protein probes to be used as “tagging tools” by scientists to monitor cellular function.

Asked about what applications his scientific research might yield, Tsien replied: “Using GFP and its many other colors biologists can now take a look, sometimes with their naked eye and sometimes with a microscope, into almost any event that happens inside the cell. A lot of things that couldn’t be seen before can now effectively be seen, either the appearance of a color or the change of a color, or sometimes the disappearance of a color, which is what the biologists want to see or are hoping to see.”

Aiming at cancer

He recently has focused his work on imaging and treating cancer, which he called “the ultimate challenge.”

Art Ellis, UCSD’s vice chancellor for research, called Tsien’s honor “a great day for UC San Diego, for Roger, his colleagues and collaborators and all the students he has mentored.”

Tsien joins a growing list of more than 16 university luminaries to receive the international award, including George E. Palade, winner of the 1974 award for medicine or physiology, who died Oct. 7.

Sharing the prize

Tsien, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry, shares the 2008 Nobel Prize with Osamu Shimomura of the Marine Biological Laboratory at Boston University School of Medicine and Martin Chalfie of New York’s Columbia University.

They will split the $1.4 million prize.

Tsien’s colleagues saluted him with a champagne toast during the Oct. 8 news conference.

Dan Donoghue, chair of the university’s academic senate, said Tsien’s most recent honor came as no surprise. “We’ve known for years of his brilliance, and the depth of insight he brings to every single scientific problem, whether its measurement of intracellular calcium concentrations or the foundation of colorful green protein derivatives which have been cited in this year’s announcement,” he said.