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Nobel Winner Is Superfund Grantee

By Eddy Ball
November 2008

Roger Tsien
Nobel Winner and current Superfund grantee Roger Tsien (Photo courtesy of the University of California at San Diego)

One of this year's Nobel Prize for Chemistry winners, Roger Tsien, Ph.D. ( Exit NIEHS has a history of grant awards from the NIEHS Superfund Basic Research Program (SBRP) to support second-generation development of his seminal discoveries. Working from the University of California at San Diego, Tsien has been an SBRP grantee since 2000.

Tsien ( Exit NIEHS was honored along with colleagues Martin Chalfie, Ph.D., of Columbia University, also an NIH grantee, and a former NIH grantee, Osamu Shimomura, Ph.D., of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. The chemists discovered a fluorescent protein, GFP, in a colorful jellyfish and developed it into a key tool for observing previously invisible processes - such as the development of nerve cells in the brain or the way cancer cells spread.

In a statement issued October 8, NIH Director Elias Zerhouni, M.D., underscored the importance of Tsien's accomplishments in the conduct of basic research. "Roger Y. Tsien contributed to our general understanding of how GFP fluoresces," Zerhouni explained. "He also extended the color palette beyond green, allowing researchers to give various proteins and cells different colors. This enables scientists to follow several different biological processes at the same time."

Although Tsien's work has its roots in the 1955 discovery of the luminescence of hydromedusae and was well underway long before the establishment of NIEHS in 1966, SBRP has supported his research for the past eight years to extend applications of his discovery in the environmental health sciences. According to NIEHS SBRP Program Analyst Beth Anderson, Tsien received a grant in 2000 to study novel cell-based toxicity sensors identified by genome-wide screens and another in 2005 for work in molecular imaging.

With his first SBRP grant at UC San Diego ( Exit NIEHS, Tsien and his colleagues developed inexpensive and rapid screens for the presence of environmental hazards, for the hazards posed by mixtures of toxins, and for testing large numbers of field isolates. The 2005 grant funds an Imaging Core, where Tsien oversees the development and application of new fluorescence, biarsenical reporter and tetracysteine-based methods for the analysis of gene and protein expression and detection both in cultured cells and tissues.

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