Nature Blog Network

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Nobel Jelly - Aequorea victoria

Ok, it a stretch, but this year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to three scientists, Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie and Roger Y. Tsien, for their "discovery, expression and development" of green fluorescent protein (GFP) in the jellyfish Aequorea victoria, providing scientists with a high resolution molecular level marker to track both inter and intra cellular processes. GFP has revolutionized scientist's ability to track cell division, gene expression, protein interactions, chromosome replication, transport pathways, organelle inheritance and more. GFP has also been used to create sensors which can be read from within living cells, reporting pH values and ion concentrations. All this coming from a sweet little protein first observed in a jellyfish.

You may ask "What's so special about GFP that makes it different from other fluorescent compounds?"
What's really cool, and what makes GFP so useful as a marker is that it needs no other compounds or structures to cause its fluorescence. The chromophore is formed spontaneously from the structure of the protein and it only requires oxygen fluoresce. This means that the protein by itself can be placed into any organism and it will maintain it's fluorescent properties when it is expressed. The protein is also non-toxic and has been expressed in many organisms with no or minor physiological effects on the organism. The gene for GFP can also be combined with genes for proteins scientists want to study. This doesn't change the study protein's normal activity, yet the GFP remains fluorescent so the protein can be tracked by its fluorescence signature (400nm excitation peak -> sharp peak 505nm emission).

While the original GFP comes from the jellies, GFP-like proteins have been found in other cnidarians, primarily in the corals (anthozoa), allowing GFP monitoring with a range of spectral signatures to be used like with the red glowing cat below!

As a note one of the recipients, Osamu Shimomura, worked extensively on Cypridina ostracods, one of several bioluminescent ostracods. However they are not molluscs, contrary to what is in the Nobel Prize report (pdf).


  1. I worked with GFP as part of my PhD research, and I got such a kick when I saw Aequorea victoria for the first time fluorescing at night during a departmental retreat at Friday Harbor in Puget Sound. I couldn't get over how something so naturally lovely and amazing was connected in such an intimate way to my research in the lab.

    P.S. That last photo is crying out for a LOL caption.

  2. You guys should have a LOL cat contest for that one. Or a wierdest GFP related photohunt.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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