July 3, 2013

Part I: Tickled worms and a sustainably energized planet

To all my Chemical Biology folks, Martin Chalfie is one cool dude. But it was not he who discovered Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP). Rather it was Douglas Parker in 1992. Martin and his co-recipients acknowledged this fact during their 2008 Nobel Lectures. During his lecture, Martin, a professor at Columbia just over an hour west of us, displayed a timeline of his research on C. elegans, the model organism he has used to study the chemistry of neurobiology. Brining the thousand or so of us at the lecture to loud laughter, the Nobel Prize is just a blip on the timeline of his life’s work.

And that has been the recurring theme throughout the Meeting – that winning a Nobel Prize isn’t a goal, it isn’t the result of one spectacular “Aha!” moment. Rather, winning a Nobel Prize is a pleasant surprise when one simply researches because they love learning.

And then Steven Chu came to the podium to deliver his lecture.

“The energy and climate change challenges and opportunities,” had some content that we US delegates were treated to while at DOE headquarters before departing to Lindau. Solving our unsustainable carbon usage problem will not come with one technology or one policy. Rather, the future of our little blue planet, and thus our own, depends on a global lifestyle change. We don’t need a “fad diet.” We do need a “lifestyle change.”

That means we as global citizens need to make small lasting changes like replacing stupid incandescent light bulbs with smart LED light bulbs. We save energy; we use less carbon; we save money.

That means we smartly turn down the heat or air conditioning in our homes when we’re not home. We save energy; we use less carbon; we save money.

That means we need to think more and waste less so we can live better and our little blue planet can live longer. Doing so will ensure our children have a planet worth living in. Doing so will ensure we will have more money to spend on things like healthy good food and drink, vacations, and lovingly grown flowers for your significant other.

Next was the lecture by Peter Agre entitled, “Aquaporin water channels: From atomic structure to Malaria.” Keeping with the theme of scientific serendipity, he told us all about how in his research that led to the prize, he got data he didn’t fully understand at first. His former PhD advisor advised him to consider that the molecule he discovered, but didn’t know what it was though it was evidently important, may be the long sought, so-called water controlling membrane protein. He tested the hypothesis by removing it from red blood cells, causing them to burst because the force of osmosis (water gushing in) could not be controlled.

…kevin eduard hauser


(Photo credit: Leah Kuritzky)