Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday Foolery #3: Answer the phone and ask simple questions

On Wednesday we had a phone call just before 5am. I know for a fact nothing good ever comes from phone calls that early in the morning to our house, and sure enough a family member (who is fine) needed a ride home from the emergency room.

On Wednesday, 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry winner Martin Chalfie received a phone call early in the morning too. He slept through it. When he awoke, he learned from the Internet that he was 1 of the 3 winners because he didn't answer the phone or think to check his voice mail that early.

(AP Photo/Harvard University, Livett- Weissman-Sanes-Lichtman)

During the 1960s Osamu Shimomura first identified the protein (GFP simply means green fluorescent protein) responsible for making a type of jellyfish that lives off the coast here glow in the dark. Chalfie demonstrated its value as a genetic marker in the 1990s after his graduate student Ghia Euskirchen was able to splice GFP into E. coli to create recombinant DNA, then he used it to mark certain neurons in C. elegans. Roger Tsien experimented with the amino acids (there are 20 in all proteins) in GFP to create a huge range of colors beyond green that can mark individual cells to study as shown in the picture above. (Source from

All this from a simple question: What makes those jellyfish glow?

What simple question do you have that might change the world?

Why is this here beyond the cool factor about anything that glows in the dark & the fact that you should always sleep lightly enough to hear the phone ring?

Genetics and biochemistry are dear to me because I was fortunate to be one of Mr. Stephen DeGusta's advanced biology high school students in the early 1990s. As a result of his connections in the field of genetic research our class was able to splice DNA several times, run them through agarose gel electrophoresis (I still have my final lab report with a picture of my gel), and do basic genetic engineering where we ligated a sequence for penicillin resistance into E. coli to create recombinant DNA then grew the cells on gels full of penicillin.

I've seen a few other shoutouts to Mr. DeGusta online, but it was about time for me to do my own. Some of my best hours in high school were spent cutting other classes and hiding in the lab behind his classroom (he knew full well I and plenty of others were back there) reading Scientific American and experimenting with planarians. Don't ask. You don't want to know.

Bookmark and Share