Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Advent Jukebox, Day 20...Rudolph's Red Fluorescent Nose.


I finally started my Christmas shopping in earnest this evening down in the lower Cambie triangle of the Big Boxical stores, the Book Warehouse, and that really big Dollar Store in the City Square Mall.

About half-way through, as my arms started to weigh down, a chunk of lyric about a kid wanting a meccano set from Chuck Berry's "Run, Run Rudolph" popped into my head...


The last time I actually laid eyes on an old fashioned meccano set was during a Christmas holiday at my Grandparents in the mid-60's. The set had belonged to my Mom's brother Gary and it held no sway over little kid me because at that time all I wanted for Christmas was a Can-con version of GI Joe (i.e. a  mountie) sitting astride a golden palomino.

It was a present set I did receive and I remember playing with it all the way to Kamloops on the train later that winter.

The mid-sixties was also the time that the Burl Ives-narrated stop motion version of Rudolph's story first started appearing on the the Tee Vee.

Gosh, if only some smart elves could have thought to isolate the protein that made Rudie's nose glow so bright they just might have beat Osumu Shimomura (located center, back, in the image above) to the punch in isolating green fluorescent protein from the jelly fish that he, his family, and his lab went fishing for every summer back in the day.

Who cares you may ask?

Well, the Nobel Committee, and just about every cell biologist under the sun, including me, sure did some 40 years later.


Ya, I know that the real lyric is 'sabre jet', but for some reason an alternative version with meccano set, either real or imagined is stuck in my head.
About that lower Cambie triangle...Sure was sad to see 'Three Vets' all closed up for the duration...Where the heck am I going to get my brothers and my matching goofy toques now?
As always, you can catch up on all this year's Jukebox tunes...Here.



Glen Clark said...

Thanks for this. Both the lovely story, song and reference to Osamu Shimomura. Fascinating story that reminds me of an article by Stephen Jay Gould that revisited the debate of "basic science" vs. "applied science".

Lew said...

RossK, you've written more than once that you've got a memory and you plan to use it.

I'm glad of that.

Hugh said...

Article leaves something out:

RossK said...


This particular three way-shared Nobel prize is really interesting that way...Simomura was doing pure 'basic science'...Martie Chalfie moved it along by applying it when he showed that he could tag the green fluorescent protein (GFP) on to other proteins and then stick this chimera into any cell type he wanted, including cells in developing round worms. This made it possible to track the location and movement of just about any protein in any cell....Then, Roger Tsien really did the application work and reverse-engineered the beejebuz out of the GFP gene (by site-directed mutation using, originally a strategy developed by local Nobel wunderkind Michael Smith) to make a whole host of differently coloured fluorescent proteins which meant that you could tag multiple proteins in the same cell. The upshot, this came full circle back to pure basic science so that folks could 'live image' just about anything protein they wanted and see how those proteins interact, move and/or function in real time under the microscope.

There was one scientist who wrote a really important chapter in this story who got lost in the shuffle and did not share in the prize. That was a young guy named Douglas Prasher who first cloned a serviceable version of the GFP gene that Chalfie and Tsien subsequently used. Unfortunately Prasher lost his 'basic science' funding and gave the clone away to all kinds of labs including Chalfie's who he worked with on 'expressing' it a bit. Chalfie was very magnanimous about this and said the following when the Nobel was awarded:

..."(Douglas Prasher's) work was critical and essential for the work we did in our lab. They could've easily given the prize to Douglas and the other two and left me out."...

Prasher's life story is an amazing one.


Thanks Lew!

Not sure it is quite as sharp as yours however.

Also, I have come to the conclusion that my memory has become crammed with too much stuff which sometimes slows instantaneous retrieval, so much so that Bigger E now creams me at Jeopardy, episodes of which my Dad/her Granddad saves on his PVR so that we can watch them by the bushels full over the holidays.

Truth be told E., would probably also cream the Kevin Bacon character in Barry Levinson's 'Diner'...

Weirdly, my Dad kind of looks like Alex Trebek whom he detests due to his fauxian superiority complex and the smarminess he displays towards the contestants and their stories told after the first commercial break...It's a crazy, mixed-up world we live in.


RossK said...

Thanks Hugh!


Glen Clark said...

Interesting stuff!
I'm out of my league here, but I thought it wasn't until the 80's that they could use GFP as a tracer.After that the use exploded.

Glen Clark said...

That is an incredible (and sad) story on Prasher! Thanks for the link. Seems downright crazy!

RossK said...

You're bang on Glen.....Shimomura isolated the protein only (i.e. he didn't clone the gene) from all that jellyfish tissue. Thus, despite the fact that Shimomura figured out how the protein worked (i.e. UV light excited it so that it emitted the fluorescent light) there was no way to easily bang said protein into cells. Instead you needed to sequence/clone the gene that encoded the protein so that it could be 'expressed' (i.e. go from DNA through RNA to protein) within cells...That required somebody to clone the gene by going backward from a wee bit of the protein's sequence (i.e. go from protein back to DNA)...That's what Prasher did which is why everybody involved in the 'prize' recognized the importance of his contribution.