Near Nobel prize winner working at Toyota dealership for $10/hr


I couldn’t pass this story without sharing it with the scientist of the world (ok the few that happen to read this blog).

Fifty-seven year old Douglas Prasher was doing serious groundwork 20 years ago that led to the 2008 Nobel Prize in chemsitry for his three colleagues for the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein (GFP) (Nobel prize can only be shared by three people). (via cape cod times, and boing boiing)

From the cape cod times:

In 1961, Osamu Shimomura of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole discovered the green fluorescent protein that gives the Aequoria Victoria jellyfish its glow. In the 1980s, Prasher began working with the protein, designated as GFP, after hypothesizing the gene responsible for the protein’s fluorescent properties could be used to help view formerly invisible molecular functions.

After the American Cancer Society gave Prasher a $220,000 grant in 1988, he set about isolating and copying the GFP gene.

That caught the attention of Martin Chalfie, another of the Nobel Prize winners announced this week. The Columbia University researcher said yesterday that the organism he was working with at the time was transparent, and he hoped Prasher’s work on the luminescent jellyfish protein would provide a way for him to see its molecular functions.

Four years later, as Prasher’s grant dried up and he was no longer able to continue his own research, he voluntarily gave samples of the GFP gene to Chalfie.

The cloned gene was also given to Roger Tsien, the third Nobel Prize winner, who has been in the forefront of fluorescent protein research ever since.

“(Prasher’s) work was critical and essential for the work we did in our lab,” Chalfie said. “They could’ve easily given the prize to Douglas and the other two and left me out.”

Talk about a brutal game. What is encouraging is that Prasher didn’t have to share the cloned gene with others (though in theory all scientist are suppose to) but he did; “he felt an obligation to give his research a chance to turn into something significant, even if he was no longer a part of it.”

So all you scientist out there could be doing Nobel prize worthy work (won’t find out for 20 odd years) out there but you might not get your grants renewed. Wow!

As for Prasher:

After stints at a U.S. Department of Agriculture laboratory and working for NASA in Huntsville, Prasher was out of work for a year before he took a job at the car dealership.

Prasher said he has suffered from health problems and depression, some of which stems from being out of science for so long.

He currently works at the Toyota dealership as a shuttle driver for $ 10 an hour as he tries to put his two children through college. He hopes the news and excitement surrounding the Nobel Prize will lead to work back in the science field. I hope for his sake that he is successful – many would think he deserves another chance.

3 comments for “Near Nobel prize winner working at Toyota dealership for $10/hr

  1. JB
    October 14, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    that is one of the more depressing things i have read in awhile.

  2. CC
    October 14, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    If it were a woman scientist, I’d drop all my work right now, go find a large paper board, write on it about this story, then sit in front of this research institute I’m working at, and start a strike.
    Since it is a guy… Hey, I DO feel sorry for him. Tonight I’ll get a beer, tell my partner about his story, ask why the field of science treat someone with talent like this. And just tell my partner I’m quitting and he’ll have to feed me for the rest of our lives together…

  3. Ward
    October 16, 2008 at 10:10 am

    JB and CC,

    yes quite the story.

    CC, not sure why you are differentiating so much between the sexes. If you think it is wrong, or an injustice, it shouldn’t matter if the person is male or female(I know you are just joking)
    So did you quit and is E. feeding you?