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February 4, 2011

Nobel Prize-Winning Biochemist Martin Chalfie Will Speak and Meet with the Campus Community Feb. 8

Martin Chalfie

Martin Chalfie, who received the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, will present the talk, “GFP:  Lighting Up Life,” 7:30 p.m. Feb. 8, in Oechsle Hall room 224. A public reception will follow. His visit is part of the College’s Interdisciplinary Seminar Series in the Life Sciences.

Chalfie, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Biological Sciences and chair of biological science at Columbia University, shared the 2008 honor with fellow researchers Osamu Shimomura and Roger Y. Tsien “for the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein, GFP.”

GFP allows scientists to look at the inner workings of cells. It can be used to tell where genes are turned on, where proteins are located within tissues, and how cell activities change over time. The discovery and development of GFP also provides an example of how scientific progress is often made: through accidental discoveries, the willingness to ignore previous assumptions and take chances, and the combined efforts of many people. The story of GFP also shows the importance of basic research on non-traditional organisms.

GFP was first observed in the jellyfish, Aequorea victoria in 1962. 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. Chalfie demonstrated the value of GFP as a luminous genetic tag for various biological phenomena. In one of his first experiments, he colored six individual cells in the transparent roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans with the aid of GFP.

Chalfie holds a Ph.D. in physiology from Harvard University. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2004 and the Institute of Medicine in 2009.

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