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In Memoriam: Osamu Shimomura

(08/27/1928 - 10/19/2018)Member since 2013

Osamu Shimomura, PhD, a Nobel Prize-winning organic chemist and marine biologist and a Fellow of the AACR Academy, died October 19, 2018, at age 90. 

Shimomura was born in Kyoto Prefecture, Japan, on Aug. 27, 1928. He was a teenager living near Nagasaki during World War II when U.S. forces dropped the atomic bomb on the city. He survived, and went on to study at the Nagasaki Pharmacy College, then at Nagoya University, where he earned a PhD in organic chemistry in 1960.

During his doctoral studies, Shimomura became interested in what made a certain species of jellyfish glow when agitated. After a summer of hands-on work in Puget Sound, Washington, he and colleagues extracted luminescent proteins. One of these proteins became known as green fluorescent protein, or GFP.

This protein became a critical tool in the understanding of cell behavior. Notably, GFP tagging of proteins has driven major breakthroughs in molecular and cellular biology, allowing researchers to track protein and gene expression and cancer researchers to effectively and efficiently study such biologic processes as cellular growth, division, migration, and death.

Shimomura was a senior scientist at Princeton University from 1965 to 1982. He then became a senior scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, until his retirement in 2001. He was also an emeritus professor at Boston University Medical School.

In 2008, Shimomura won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on the jellyfish, sharing the honor with Martin L. Chalfie, PhD, FAACR, of Columbia University and Roger Y. Tsien, PhD, FAACR, of the University of California, San Diego.

Among other career awards, Shimomura received the Pearse Prize in 2004, the Emile Chamot Award in 2005, the Asahi Prize in 2006, and the Japan Order of Culture Award in 2008. He received honorary doctoral degrees from Nagasaki University, Gakushuin University, and Boston University.