UCSD’s Roger Tsien shares 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry


UCSD Professor Roger Tsien, Ph.D., will share the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of green fluorescent protein (GFP) and seminal work to design and create fluorescent molecules that enter cells and light up their inner workings.

He shares the honor with Osamu Shimomura of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole and Boston University School of Medicine, and Martin Calfie of Columbia Univesrity in New York.

Announcing the prize in Stockholm, Sweden today, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said: “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. This glowing marker allows them to watch the movements, positions and interactions of the tagged proteins. The impact of his groundbreaking success in the development of colorful, glowing dyes and proteins to track cellular behavior has earned him the Nobel Prize.”

Tsien, a professor of pharmacology, chemistry and biochemistry at UC

San Diego and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, has dedicated his career to the development and application of fluorescent protein probes that enable scientists to monitor cellular function.

“Our work is often described as building and training molecular spies … molecules that will enter a cell or organism and report back to us what the conditions are, what’s going on with the biochemistry, while the cell is still alive,” said Tsien in a university news release.

In particular, his laboratory has engineered dyes that gently infiltrate their target, without disrupting or harming the cell, opening new windows into cellular function. Previously, dyes were injected, violating the cell membrane and limiting studies to larger cells. He and his collaborators also improved and modified Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) from jellyfish and analogous red fluorescent proteins from corals to track a wide variety of cell signals.

Tsien’s methods have led to new opportunities to monitor and image multiple molecular processes simultaneously, in all sizes and types of cells, without disrupting cell function.

“I am delighted to join the entire UC San Diego community, including

the hundreds of scientists and graduate students worldwide who have

collaborated with him, in congratulating and saluting Roger Tsien for winning this year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Marye Anne Fox. “Roger joins the extraordinary and prestigious ranks of Nobel Laureates at UC San Diego whose incredible scholarship is dedicated to improving the lives of people throughout the world.”

Tsien attended Harvard College on a National Merit Scholarship, graduating at age 20 with a degree in chemistry and physics. He received

his doctorate degree at the University of Cambridge where, as a graduate student, he developed molecules to track and control the levels of calcium inside cells, levels that play a major role in the regulation of nerve impulses, muscle contraction, and fertilization.

After postdoctoral work at Cambridge, he moved to the University of California, Berkeley, where he rose to professor of physiology. He moved to UCSD in 1989.

Past UC San Diego Nobel Prize winners include: Renato Dulbecco, 1975,

physiology/medicine; Harry Markowitz, 1990, economics; Paul Crutzen, 1995, chemistry; Mario J. Molina, 1995, chemistry; Sydney Brenner, 2002,

medicine; Clive W.J. Granger and Robert F. Engle, 2003, economics.

The 2007 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to former vice president Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose roster of researchers lists nearly two dozen Scripps Institution of Oceanography scientists including Mario Molina, Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Richard Somerville and Lynne Talley.

Eight other UC San Diego faculty laureates have died, including George E. Palade, who won the 1974 Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology, who passed away on October 7, 2008; and an eighth is no longer at the university.