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Innovation Blog

Please sink my rubber duckies, so I can understand the oceans!

By Shlomo Maital

  

 

 

 

 

 My friend Michael Neugarten sent me this item, published in Britain’s The Independent, by journalist Guy Adams, today, Feb. 27:   

  A new book by Donovan Hohn, titled Moby Duck,  chronicles the journey of thousands of plastic duckies lost from a container ship some 20 years ago. This flotilla of yellow plastic ducks, made only for bathtub use,  has been hailed for revolutionizing mankind’s knowledge of ocean science”.  According to Hohn,

   They were in a crate that fell off the deck of a container ship during a journey

across the Pacific from Hong Kong in January 1992.  Since that moment, they have bobbed tens of thousands of miles.  Some washed up on the shores of Hawaii and Alaska; others have been stuck in Arctic ice.   A few crossed the site near Newfoundland where the Titanic sank, and at

least one is believed to have been found on a beach in Scotland. Now the creatures, nicknamed the “Friendly Floatees” by various broadcasters who have followed their progress over the years, have been immortalized in a book. It not only chronicles their extraordinary odyssey, and what it has taught us about currents, but also lays bare a largely ignored threat to the marine environment: the vast numbers of containers that fall off the world’s cargo ships.

 

    According to Adam’s account, Curtis Ebbesmeyer,  “a retired oceanographer and enthusiastic beachcomber who lives in Seattle, used records held by First Years Inc to trace the ship they had been carried on. By interviewing its captain, he was able to locate

the exact point at which their journey began. He was able to track their

rate of progress on the constantly circulating current, or “gyre”, which

runs between Japan, south-east Alaska, Kodiak and the Aleutian Islands. ‘We always knew that this gyre existed. But until the ducks came along, we didn’t know how long it took to complete a circuit,’ he says. ‘It was like knowing that a planet is in the solar system but not being able to say how long it takes to orbit. Well, now we know exactly how long it takes: about three years.’

     Woody Allen once said, “my wife is so immature – she used to sink my rubber duckies in the bathtub”.   Today, 20 years after a container of rubber duckies fell overboard, we now better understand how the world’s currents work.  I wonder why no innovative researcher thought about sinking rubber duckies on purpose, to study currents.  Actually they did. On Dec. 21, 2008, I wrote a blog about this:   “A while ago, NASA researchers dropped 90 rubber duckies onto a Greenland glacier, in an effort to trace where the glacier melt water went, as it disappeared under Greenland’s ice shelf.   The duckies disappeared without a trace.”

     Could they have joined the Moby Ducks?   

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 Innovation Blog

“The Adjacent Possible” – Why One Step Sideways Can Become a Giant Leap Forward

By Shlomo Maital

   

 

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw

 Steven Johnson’s book “Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation”, Oct. 2010, and his recent Wall St. Journal article, are both worth reading.  The title of the article summarizes its main point.  The secret to innovation is combining odds and ends.  This approach is developed by scientist Stuart Kauffman, whose novel theory of evolution departs from Darwin and uses the brilliant notion of “the adjacent possible” – innovative possibilities that develop from existing products and ideas, that are close enough to be feasible and far enough to be considered creative.  The ‘adjacent possible’ is a powerful notion, because it embodies the notion of options – innovative in ways that create the widest possible variety of options, or ‘adjacent possible’s.  Your innovation may fail, yet ultimately succeed if it opens a door to a powerful innovative adjacent possible.

   Here are two examples, from Finland and India.

   * Finland has a huge paper business, using pulp from its massive forests to make paper for Europe. But paper production generates environmentally-unfriendly waste.  So Finland found ways to mitigate the damage such waste does.  Some of this research involved leveraging biotechnology.  As a result Finland now has a major biotechnology industry. Its ‘adjacent possible’ was the industry adjacent to purifying waste-water effluents from paper mills.

   *  India’s Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw’s father was a brewmaster at India’s United Breweries, who helped develop Kingfisher beer.  Kiran wanted to study zoology. Her father asked her to consider beer-making instead.  Why in the world would I do that? She asked. Because, he said, it is a science.  From a brewing enzyme business, Mazumdar-Shaw has built Biocon, a global biotech firm.  According to Bloomberg/Business Week*:

“Today the brewing enzyme business Mazumdar-Shaw started in her Bangalore garage in 1978 with 10,000 rupees ($1,200 then) has grown into Biocon, India’s largest biotech company and Asia’s biggest producer of insulin. Biocon is poised to ramp up competition in the $14 billion global insulin market, which is dominated by Novo Nordisk, Sanofi-Aventis, and Eli Lilly. Demand for insulin is expected to increase 20 percent a year through 2015 as the number of diabetics tops 285 million globally, according to market researcher RNCOS.

       “In India’s biggest drug supply deal so far, Biocon and Pfizer (PFE) in October agreed that the Bangalore-based company will produce insulin for the U.S. drug giant, which abandoned that business more than three years ago after taking a $2.8 billion charge on its Exubera inhalable insulin. Biocon will supply four generic insulin products to be sold initially in emerging markets, including India and Brazil.”

    “Today Biocon employs more than 5,300 people. Mazumdar-Shaw, 57, is India’s fourth-richest woman, with a net worth of $900 million, according to Forbes magazine.”

* Wall Street Journal, Steven Johnson, Sept. 25, 2010, “The Genius of the Tinkerer

** Bloomberg/Business Week,  “From brewing, an Indian biotech firm”, Feb. 25, article by Adi Narayan.

 

 

                         Global Crisis/Global Innovation

Are Exports Really China’s Growth Engine?  A Response to McKinsey

By Shlomo Maital

    Writing in McKinsey Quarterly, Sept. 2010, *   three experts in McKinsey’s strategy practice argue that if you measure China’s NET exports (exports minus imports of components used to reassembly), you find that domestic value-added exports account for only a third of China’s economic growth, not two-thirds as previously believed.   The point is simple.  Like Singapore, China imports components from other countries. This important demand is of huge importance to other Asian nations, who form part of China’s export ecosystem.  But imports reduce China’s GDP, not increase it. So if you measure exports as ‘net’, not ‘gross’, you get a far different picture.

   I would like to refute this argument.  Exports still account for MORE than two-thirds of China’s growth.  This is why China must cling to its undervalued currency and export subsidies fiercely in future, because they are the foundations of its economic growth.

   Here is why.  GDP is an ecosystem.  Picture a flow chart.  Capital formation (investment) is driven by exports, because much of investment goes either to infrastructure, to support export industries, or to investment, to build new plants and expand existing ones.  Also, personal consumption is largely driven by exports, because export demand creates millions of jobs, high wages and enables the consumption spending that in turn drives GDP growth.  So, if you take into account indirect contributions of exports to growth, using a systems dynamics approach, you find, again, that exports are the key to China’s continuing rapid growth.  Take away exports, and you slash investment and consumption. 

     Don’t expect China to easily give up its export-driven model.  The true picture shows that our original assumption, that China’s growth is principally driven by its export engine, is still valid. 

* John Horn, Vivien Singer, Jonathan Woetzel, “a truer picture of China’s export machine”, McKinsey Quarterly Sept. 2010.

Innovation Blog

Milkshake Marketing:  How a ‘jobs-to-be-done’ perspective spurs innovation

By Shlomo Maital

 

 

In our book Innovation Management, D.V.R. Seshadri and I suggest that innovators should listen to four ‘voices’ – those of the product, the organization, the customer/client and your internal intuitive voice.  All these voices ‘speak’ – except the product. How can products make their voice heard?

  Now comes Harvard Business School Professor Clay Christensen’s “milkshake marketing” perspective to reinforce this point. Readers will know Christensen from his famous ‘disruptive technology’ work.  Here is my ‘take’ on Christensen’s approach, which says products are simply things that do a job. Find what that job is, and you can innovate successfully.  I write as if I were a milkshake.

  Hi!  I’m a milkshake. My mom is a fast-food chain.  She wants to sell more of me. So she did everything the MBA marketing texts say to do. And nothing worked. Then, she did the obvious – she asked me, the milkshake itself.  So I asked my buyers. Turns out I’m bought mainly in the morning by commuters, who want something they can hold in one hand and relieve the boredom of the long commute to work.  So we made the ‘morning milkshake’ thicker, so it lasts the whole trip, and more interesting, with chunks of fruit.  Also kids like milkshakes. But it takes them forever to finish them, because they are so thick, so parents balk.  So I told mom to make thinner milkshakes for kids.  It worked!  Sales doubled!”

  Christensen says, “Looking at the market from the function of a product really originates from your competitors or your own employees deciding what you need, whereas the jobs-to-be-done point of view causes you to CRAWL INTO THE SKIN OF YOUR CUSTOMER and go with her as she goes about her day, always asking the question as she does something, ‘ why did she do it that way?’ “. 

 See:  “Clay Christensen’s Milkshake Marketing”,  Carmen Nobel, HBS Working Knowledge, Feb. 14, 2011.

Global Crisis/Innovation Blog

You Must Be From Philadelphia, If Your Budget is Balanced:

How Mayor Michael Nutter Tackled the Deficit, And What Obama Could Learn

By Shlomo Maital

  

Philly Mayor Michael Nutter

 

 

 There is a huge number of Philadelphia jokes:  “You must be from Philadelphia, if… you can sleep soundly through gunshots in the neighborhood; … you visit New York and notice how clean it is… you can’t eat fries without Cheeze Whiz….you find street people greet you by first name.”

  Here is a new one.  You must be from Philadelphia…if your city budget balances.  It’s no joke. Mayor Michael Nutter, elected a few months before the US economy crashed in 2008, has done what President Obama, the Governor of Wisconsin California and other states, and many mayors, have failed to do – achieve budget balance.

   How?  Simple.  Read the numbers, diagnose the problem, and take prompt action before the problem becomes unmanageable.  Accept the political pain and protest, and do what is right.    

   Here is the Mayor’s story, in his own words, as told to the BBC World Service’s Adam Brooks (“Americana” program):  “In August  2008, my chief of staff and finance director,  told me, “Mayor, we have a problem, noticing that all of our revenue sources are starting to decline”.  We knew we had to take immediate action, to make sure we did not run out of money, so we took immediate steps to slow down spending. People were shocked.  We acted on the Thursday, before the weekend Lehman Brothers collapsed. In the following week, every day, a major financial institution went out of business or showed signs of weakness.  There was fear and uncertainty.  Nobody knew what was going on. In October we announced a projected deficit number:   $650-$850 m. and growing!   We needed to close the gap between income and spending immediately. We moved early and fast.  We did layoffs. We eliminated some services.  In the interim, we had 8 town hall meetings, each with 400-500 people, they screamed at us for 2.5 hours, how bad we were, how stupid we were, cutting services, raising fees,  people losing jobs…  it was a very bad environment. People were angry and scared, that is a toxic combination.  People love service, they hate paying for it.  Irrationality? Sure.  We found ourselves:  raising taxes, cutting services, this was a double hit, doubly toxic.  Worked? Yes!   Popularity has suffered.  The moment you try to change things, your popularity erodes.    What we’ve done can be done by other US cities.   Be strategic,  be willing to take a lot of grief, but you also have to lay out your vision for where you’re trying to go.  Where there is no vision, people perish. (The Book of Proverbs).   We made hard choices, strategic investments, showed where we can go: it worked.  A City has to be run like a business.  We have 22,000 employees, $4 b. budget!   I lose sleep over Washington, what they’re doing, what they’re not going, I  want to see more civility, more reality, less political rhetoric,  because after you get elected, you have the responsibility of governing…I want people to be more serious about their responsibilities as elected leaders, to take on the tough challenges, stop playing to the crowd, make hard decisions, and move on.!”

  Barack Obama, are you listening?   

 Global Crisis/Innovation Blog

Trade with China:  The Economists Still Don’t Get It!  Will They Ever?

By Shlomo Maital

 

 

 

 

 David Ricardo: 200 year old theory

J.M. Keynes was once accused by opponents of frequently changing his views.  His acerbic response:  “When the facts change, I change.  What do YOU do?!”

  I am reading Harvard Prof. N. Gregory Mankiw’s New York Times piece, “Emerging markets as partners, not rivals”, in disbelief.  Mankiw is one of the leading economists of his generation. He authored the leading Principles of Economics textbook and served as President George W. Bush’s chief economic advisor.  In his piece, he attacks President Obama’s phrase “winning the future”, used three times in Obama’s State of the Union address.  Mankiw’s claim: Trade is win-win, not about ‘winning’.  Everyone gains.  This is what David Ricardo taught over two centuries ago.

   Here are some data for America’s 2010 trade.    For all of 2010, the US trade deficit of $497.8 billion was sharply bigger than the prior year’s $374.9 billion.  America’s trade gap with China  for 2010 swelled to $273.1 billion, topping the 2008 record of $268.0 billion.  In other words, some 54 per cent of America’s total huge trade deficit is generated by unbalanced trade with China.

   China now holds some $3 trillion in reserve dollar assets, a strategic weapon China uses, and will use, aggressively to further its interests around the world.

    If America produced those $273 b. worth of goods and services it now buys from China at home (imports less exports), in America, it would gain 5 to 8 million new jobs, halving its unemployment rate.

    Here is Mankiw’s take on this situation, straight from the old-fashioned outmoded ideas of Econ 101:  “a voluntary economic transaction between consenting consumers and producers typically benefits both parties”. 

     What about this ‘voluntary’ transaction between consenting partners:  China uses a grossly-undervalued currency and under-the-table subsidies to grab America’s manufacturing, then moves to usurp America’s innovation lead as well by leveraging the link between R&D and production. 

    Free trade a la Econ 101?  Nothing at all ‘free’ about it. It’s free only on the American, buyer side.   And America rolls over and plays dead, led by the outmoded economics of economists like Mankiw – even though MIT Economist Paul Samuelson proved long ago that in a dynamic world, the static win-win idea of comparative advantage does not hold, when your trading ‘partner’  swallows the productivity gains inherent in its export specialties. 

  When will America stop acting like a pacifist Quaker in the boxing ring with Mike Tyson?  I love Quakers, but they tend not to do well in head-to-head battles.  America is now head-to-head with China. Only the American head is led by economists like Mankiw.  It seems hopeless.

   The facts have changed. America is losing in its trade with China. It has been at least since 2000, when China was America’s #8 source of imports;  it is now #1 !  Keynes would have changed his views.  When will his fellow economists in America see the light and do the same? 

* N. Gregory Mankiw. “Emerging markets as partners, not rivals”.  New York Times Feb. 12, 2011.

 

   

 Global Crisis/Innovation Blog

 The Economists Still Don’t Get It!  Will They Ever?

By Shlomo Maital

  J.M. Keynes was once accused by opponents of frequently changing his views.  His acerbic response:  “When the facts change, I change.  What do YOU do?!”

  I am reading Harvard Prof. N. Gregory Mankiw’s New York Times piece, “Emerging markets as partners, not rivals”, in disbelief.  Mankiw is one of the leading economists of his generation. He authored the leading Principles of Economics textbook and served as President George W. Bush’s chief economic advisor.  In his piece, he attacks President Obama’s phrase “winning the future”, used three times in Obama’s State of the Union address.  Mankiw’s claim: Trade is win-win, not about ‘winning’.  Everyone gains.

   Here are some data for America’s 2010 trade.    For all of 2010, the US trade deficit of $497.8 billion was sharply bigger than the prior year’s $374.9 billion.  America’s trade gap with China  for 2010 swelled to $273.1 billion, topping the 2008 record of $268.0 billion.  In other words, some 54 per cent of America’s total huge trade deficit is generated by unbalanced trade with China.

   China now holds some $3 trillion in reserve dollar assets, a strategic weapon China uses, and will use, aggressively to further its interests around the world.

    If America produced those $273 b. worth of goods and services it now buys from China at home, in America, it would gain 5 to 8 million new jobs, halving its unemployment rate.

    Here is Mankiw’s take on this situation, straight from the old-fashioned outmoded ideas of Econ 101:  “a voluntary economic transaction between consenting consumers and producers typically benefits both parties”. 

     What about this ‘voluntary’ transaction between consenting partners:  China uses a grossly-undervalued currency and under-the-table subsidies to grab America’s manufacturing, then moves to usurp America’s innovation lead as well by leveraging the link between R&D and production. 

    Free trade a la Econ 101?  Nothing at all ‘free’ about it. It’s free only on the American, buyer side.   And America rolls over and plays dead, led by the outmoded economics of economists like Mankiw – even though MIT Economist Paul Samuelson proved long ago that in a dynamic world, the static win-win idea of comparative advantage does not hold, when your trading ‘partner’  swallows the productivity gains inherent in its export specialties. 

  When will America stop acting like a pacifist Quaker in the boxing ring with Mike Tyson?  I love Quakers, but they tend not to do well in head-to-head battles.  America is now head-to-head with China. Only the American head is led by economists like Mankiw.  It seems hopeless.

   The facts have changed. America is losing in its trade with China. It has been at least since 2000, when China was America’s #8 source of imports;  it is now #1 !  Keynes would have changed his views.  When will his fellow economists in America see the light and do the same? 

* N. Gregory Mankiw. “Emerging markets as partners, not rivals”.  New York Times Feb. 12, 2011.

      

 

 

   

 Innovation Blog

Stop the Waste! Fight Famine! Eat the Soy, Don’t Feed it to Cows!

By Shlomo Maital

 

 

Soy veggie burger

 

  The world faces an urgent crisis. It hasn’t yet reached the media and headlines, because nobody is dying, starving, killing or being killed.  But it may happen, unless we act.  Here is why.

    Worldwide climate change and economic growth have created a large excess demand for wheat.  The world will produce 674 million tons of wheat this year, down 100 million tons from last year owing to drought and climatic change.  China’s production will drop precipitously, and China will now enter world markets to buy grain rather than export it.  We are already seeing significant food inflation worldwide.  It will hurt the poor, who already live on the edge.  Part of the cause of the Egyptian riots was a precipitous rise in the price of bread.

   There is a solution. It is called soy.  Soy is a wonderful nutritious food, with high vegetable protein content.  You can make veggie burgers out of it, and other foods, that are very tasty. An Israeli firm Tivall has done this for many years and has marketed it successfully to Israeli mothers, who want to feed their children healthy nutritious meals.    

    Did you know that 98 per cent of the soybeans grown in the world are fed to animals?  Eating meat is incredibly inefficient.  It takes seven vegetable calories fed to cows to generate one meat calorie.  What a waste.  And the world is eating more and more meat, as the meat-eating middle class grows in Asia.  Moreover, food experts tell us that one calorie of protein (soy)  is more satisfying to the body than one calorie of carbohydrate (grain or rice) because it takes longer to digest.

   Let us see a concerted combined effort by innovators and marketers, to create soy-based protein foods, that are delicious, and to market them to people who traditionally are highly conservative and loathe to change in their eating habits.  Let us see McDonald’s create a soy-based veggie burger and market it!  Let us tackle the worldwide food shortage before people begin to starve and die.   

 Innovation Blog

“T’mura” – An Innovation in the Way Innovators Share, or,

    Find the Next Bill Gates and Place Your Bet

By Shlomo Maital

  “T’mura” (Hebrew for ‘reward’ or ‘compensation’) supports worthy Israeli charities in an innovative way.   Founded in 2002 by Yadin Kaufman and Baruch Lipner, Tmura solicits grants of stock options from start-ups, and uses the proceeds to fund worthy organizations, when a few of the start-ups achieve profitable ‘exits’ (acquisition by larger, usually foreign, firms).

   So far, Tmura has collected in this fashion over $3 m. for 30 NGO’s (nonprofit organizations) in Israel, including those that deliver educational programming for social justice in high schools, that provide computer centers in periphery towns, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Israel, and others.   Temura also raised $3.5 m. through grant-matching programs, in which entrepreneurs who sold their companies give part of their newfound wealth to T’mura, which matches the donation. 

    “What the country [Israel] needs now is for the leaders of the start-up nation to move into social entrepreneurship,” said John Medved, founder of Vringo, a start-up.  “We’ve got the tech and business entrepreneurship down. But we need to unleash the same energies and same kind of creativity and passion that we displayed for start-up businesses for start-up social ventures”.

       T’mura is based on a similar American idea called Entrepreneurs Foundation.

    Entrepreneurs Foundation (EF) was founded in 1998  to make it easy for U.S. companies to meaningfully engage in their communities through strategic corporate citizenship and corporate social responsibility programs. Through Entrepreneurs Foundation, over 880+ companies in the United States and Israel have created corporate foundations and community benefit programs.   In partnership with Entrepreneurs Foundation, companies leverage their corporate assets to create customized philanthropy and community programs that meet corporate objectives and serve social needs. Entrepreneurs Foundation provides expertise, resources, best practices and a network to companies so that maximum corporate and community benefit is achieved.   Entrepreneurs Foundation provides a unique model for pre-public companies to invest in their communities by seed funding corporate foundations with pre-IPO stock.  See http://www.efbayarea.org/

   Does your country have its own version of T’mura?  Why not start one?  Identify promising start-ups, find those with social consciences, and ask the founders to provide a contingent give-back-to-society—contingent, of course, on ultimate success.  You only need one start-up to succeed, to generate substantial funding.  Find the next Bill Gates – and place your bets.

 Innovation Blog

Hal, the 2001 Computer, as “Watson”:  Sane, Smart – and Creative?

By Shlomo Maital

 

 Jennings, “Watson” and Rutter, 

 playing Jeopardy

Remember Hal, the psychotic computer in the movie “2001”, inspired by sci-fi writer Arthur Clarke and directed by Stanley Kubrick, in 1968?  Well, Hal’s back, 43 years later. He has a new name:  “Watson”.  And he’s not only sane, he’s very very smart, very fast… but, not yet, creative.  *

    In “2001”, Hal the computer, on a space ship, has a nervous breakdown.  Early drafts of the script show it occurred because Hal was order to withhold information from the astronauts about the true purpose of their mission. Apparently, it’s tough for computers to lie.

   “Watson” is an IBM computer named after IBM founder Thomas Watson and designed to play the TV game “Jeopardy”. In Jeopardy, three contestants are given ‘answers’ (“This 50th American state is the birthplace of the current President”), and asked to give the appropriate ‘questions’ (“Who is Barack Obama?”).  First to press a buzzer gets to answer; if the answer is right, the contestant wins money. The one who wins the most total money, wins the game and returns the next time.    The star of Jeopardy is named Ken Jennings, whom won 74 games in a row, and Brad Rutter, another act.  At the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights,  the computer “Watson” went head-to-head with Jennings and Rutter.  “Watson” won hands down.   Watson beat its opponents to the buzzer, in the second round, 24 times out of 30, and got most of the answers right.

    This is not a frivolous exercise. It cost IBM a lot of money. IBM will use the publicity to leverage new products, including a Watson-like physician’s assistant, where doctors would query it just like with Jeopardy.  This, in turn, will change the nature of medical education. “The power of Watson-like tools will cause us to reconsider what it is we want students to do,” said Dr. H. Chase, a clinical medicine professor. No longer will memory skills be paramount. 

    The one thing neither Hal nor Watson (nor IBM’s Big Blue chess-playing computer that defeated world champion Gary Kasparov) could do, is to be innovative and creative, coming up with novel ideas that link seemingly unrelated things.  In Jeopardy, wherever there was ambiguity in the question, Watson stumbled.  Only the human brain has this capability called ‘imagination’, the ability to see not what is, but what could be.  Indeed, as computers take over more and more memory and cognition functions, the one thing computers cannot do will become immensely valuable to those possessing it – the capability to dream. 

* see: John Markoff, “Artificial intelligence gets lift on TV quiz”, IHT, Feb 18, 2011, p. 21.   

 Innovation Blog

Jellyfish, Curiosity, Collaboration: Why the 2008 Nobel Prize for Chemistry is a Great Parable for World-Changing Innovation  

 

By Shlomo Maital

 

 Jellyfish: Green Edges when Upset! 

 

 

 The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to three scientists: one Japanese, one Chinese, one American.  The story of how their research helped unlock the innermost secrets of life is a parable about the three drivers of world-changing innovation:    curiosity, collaboration, and “X + Y” (connecting things others would not think of joining).

 

   First, the story.  The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2008 was won by Osama Shimomura, Martin Chalfie, and Roger Tsien.   My source is: http://www.moleclues.org

 1.     The jellyfish glows green around the outer edge when it becomes agitated. What makes it glow???  Who cares?  Only those who have the freedom to follow their interest, and who have curiosity about everything strange, on this earth.  In 1961 Osamu Shimomura set out with other scientists to find out the answer.  They managed to  isolate two proteins which were responsible for making the jellyfish glow. They named them aequorin and green fluorescent protein (GFP).   Little did they know that many years later the green fluorescent protein would change the world of science.

     Normally proteins are not visible in a microscope, but green fluorescent protein (GPF) absorbs Ultraviolet light or blue light and then glows green.  Wouldn’t it be great if you could link GFP  to another protein that you are interested in studying, so that you could see your protein glow?  Perhaps even in other organisms?”

2.     The second Nobel Prize winner, Martin Chalfie, showed that this was indeed possible!  Each protein in our cells is produced by turning on a specific sequence in our DNA, a “gene”.  Chalfie inserted the gene that codes for GFP next to the gene that expresses another protein.  When the protein is made, it is automatically attached to GFP:  a glowing protein is produced!  Now scientists can see exactly where in the cell the protein is and follow its movements using a microscope.”

3. “ Roger Tsien, the 3rd Nobel winner, looked at the molecular details of GFP and was able to change the protein very slightly to produce new types that emit light in DIFFERENT COLORS! Now researchers could see proteins interact with each other in the cell by labeling each one with different colors…  multicolored glowing proteins revealing the secrets of life inside the cell!  Tsien thus built on the findings of his colleagues. 

 

   “ Nowadays GFP and similar proteins are a very important tool in science to light up and see molecules at work using a microscope.  Some really spectacular applications include mice that fluoresce under ultraviolet light (used in medical research)… And Glofish…fish that glow thanks to a linked fluorescent gene.”

 

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

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