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Scientists Bask in Glow of Fluorescence Gathering

The late Roger Tsien, Nobel Prize-winning UC San Diego chemist, will be celebrated at a symposium in his honor during annual science meeting

August 20, 2019 | By Cynthia Dillon

The late Roger TsienHundreds of scholars from around the world will gather Aug. 20 – 24, 2019, at UC San Diego’s Price Center for the 16th Methods & Applications of Fluorescence (MAF) meeting. The event will bring together established scientists and younger investigators from academia and industry to discuss recent developments in diverse areas related to the biosciences and material sciences. Postdoctoral scholars and students will also participate in the meeting aimed at enabling focused discussions, promoting the exchange of ideas and facilitating networking.

Of special interest to the UC San Diego community is the MAF-affiliated Roger Tsien Memorial Symposium, Aug. 24, which will celebrate the late Nobel Prize winner’s life and science. Known for his passion for chemistry, Tsien pioneered the use of light and color to “peek and poke” (Nature, 2016) at living cells to see their structure and function. His transformative work was recognized by a share of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2008 for the development of a rainbow of probes based on the jellyfish green fluorescent protein (GFP).

The tribute symposium, which will be held on the third anniversary of Tsien’s death, will feature Keynote Speaker W.E. Moerner, the Harry S. Mosher Professor of Chemistry and Professor by courtesy of Applied Physics, at Stanford University. Moerner, a former UC San Diego faculty member, has conducted research in physical chemistry, biophysics and the optical properties of single molecules, and he is actively involved in the development of 2D and 3D super-resolution imaging for cell biology. Other presenters will include:

It is perfectly fitting to celebrate Roger Tsien’s work during the final day of the MAF international conference, as his work truly revolutionized the way this community conducts research,” said UC San Diego Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Yitzhak Tor. “Hosting it on campus adds to the symposium’s significance, as in spite of his revered international stature, Roger was a loyal and highly engaged member of our campus.”

Tor described Tsien as someone with an encyclopedic knowledge and exceptional creativity, who served as an inspiration for younger scientists on campus and in the community at large. He noted Tsien’s knack for creating practical tools that changed scientific research. For example, Tsien’s discoveries have been translated into common research tools such as calcium sensors, fluorescent proteins and industrial endeavors—several of which are located in San Diego: Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Senomyx, Avelas Biosciences. 

His unfinished projects live on with younger UC San Diego scientists, who explore pathways to turn his ideas, such as fluorescence-guided surgery, into reality,” said Tor.

Tsien joined UC San Diego in 1989 with the goal of making sensors that could be genetically encoded, allowing researchers to target specific cell types without injecting tracers. In the 1990s, he recognized the potential of GFP, which had been isolated from jellyfish three decades earlier by Osamu Shimomura, who shared the 2008 Nobel Prize with Tsien. GFP was cloned by Douglas Prasher in 1992, and in 1994, Martin Chalfie, who also shared in the Nobel Prize with Tsien, first used GFP to image living cells. Tsien served as a professor of pharmacology and chemistry and biochemistry at UC San Diego until he passed away at the age of 64.

Individuals interested in attending the MAF meeting can visit the website for more information.