Dr. Martin Chalfie’s discussion highlights his ground-breaking research on green flourescent protein (GFP). He and colleagues revolutionized how scientists study the mechanics of cells by getting a visual fix on how organs function. GFP is a small, inert, and relatively nontoxic molecule, easily diffused through living tissue. Researchers now have the ability to follow various cells with the help of GFP. They can study nerve cell damage during Alzheimer’s disease, how insulin-producing beta cells are created in the pancreas of a growing embryo, or how cancer cells spread. In one spectacular experiment, researchers succeeded in tagging different nerve cells with a kaleidoscope of colors in the brain of a mouse.
Dr. Chalfie is the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Biological Sciences at Columbia University, where he is also chair of the Department of Biological Sciences. He shared the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Osamu Shimomura and Roger Y. Tsien for the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein, GFP.