GFP: Lighting Up Life
with Martin Chalfie
Offered in partnership with The New York Academy of Sciences
Friday, May 24, 2013

Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.” Before the early 1990s, biological observations of cells were usually done on dead specimens that were specially prepared and permeabilized to allow entry of reagents to stain cellular components. These methods offered a glimpse of what cells were doing but gave a static view of life. This Master Class will examine how GFP (Green Fluorescent Protein) changed the biological sciences by allowing scientists to look at the inner workings of living cells. This remarkable protein can be used to show us where genes are turned on, where proteins are located, and how cell activities change over time. The story of its discovery and development demonstrates the importance of basic research using non-traditional organisms, and is also a fine 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.

Martin Chalfie went to public school in suburban Chicago and then to Harvard, where he eventually earned a Ph.D. in Physiology. Before devoting his life to science, however, Chalfie sold dresses and taught high school. Today he is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Biological Sciences at Columbia University. In 2008 Dr. Chalfie won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with Osamu Shimomura and Roger Y. Tsien “for the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein, GFP.”