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Prize-winning Jellyfish Research has Bay State Ties

The Nobel Prize for chemistry has gone to three scientists, including one who works at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory and Boston University Medical School.

Jellyfish research that he started almost 50 years ago is why Osamu Shimomura won this year's prize. He found a protein in jellyfish that emits fluorescent light. That protein can be put in the cells of other living creatures, making their proteins glow, too. Now, those glowing markers let researchers watch cellular processes that were previously invisible. The markers function almost like light bulbs, letting scientists see how diseases like cancer and Alzheimer's spread.

James Head is a Boston University professor who, with Shimomura, published a paper on this. He says identifying the jellyfish protein was messy work.

"He and his wife would go down to the docks and haul in enormous numbers — buckets and buckets — of these jellyfish."

Then, back at his lab, Shimomura dissected thousands of jellyfish to isolate the protein. Later on, he shared the protein free of charge with other scientists around the world doing similar research.

"I would very much expect he could have charged had he wanted to — almost certainly, in fact."

At a news conference yesterday in Woods Hole, Shimomura, who is 80 years old, was asked if he has a message for younger scientists. He said he's noticed that some of them seem to avoid tough research. So he encouraged them to take on difficult topics.

"Don't stop. Don't give up. If you confront a difficulty, just overcome that until you finish the project."

Shimomura shares the prize with two other researchers, one at Columbia University and one at the University of San Diego. They will each receive about a half-million dollars as part of the award.

This program aired on October 9, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

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