There is a touching and fascinating story in the Cape Cod Times about Douglas Prasher who used to work at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. In the 1960s he did some of the pioneering work on GFP (the discovery of which was why Osamu Shimomura, Roger Tsein and Martin Chalfie were given the Nobel Prize in Chemistry this year). Prasher had cloned the gene for GFP but his research funds ran out and he stopped working on GFP (he is currently living in Huntsville Alabama and working as a shuttle driver for a car dealership).
His pioneering work was critical to the later work on GFP and one of the nobel winner Martin Chalfie says
“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.”
What Prasher did that was so critical was that he gave the cloned gene away to Tsein and Chalfie and others. He was under no obligation per se to give away the gene. But he bears no sour grapes. And he says something fundamentally true about this:
“When you’re using public funds, I personally believe you have an obligation to share,” Prasher said. “I put my heart and soul into it, but if I kept that stuff, it wasn’t gonna go anyplace.”
Sharing of resources is common in science but not universal. And many do it, well, just because it is common practice. But I think we forget sometimes that we have an obligation to share beyond what is common practice. We have an obligation because the advancement of science is why the government (and the public) gives us money to do our work. So, for not harboring sour grapes about missing out on a Nobel Prize, and for emphasizing the “public good” part of sharing scientific resources, I am giving Douglas Prasher an “Open Science Pioneer Award”
- NPR interview with Douglas Prasher, the man who cloned GFP
- Nobel Prize heartbreak – Dr Douglas Prasher [Terra Sigillata]
- When his grant ran out, this man selflessly gave his colleagues his work to continue. *They* just won the Nobel Prize with it. This is the very best of science…
- Douglas Prasher–No Nobel, but how Noble!
- Why Sharing is Important
- The Man Who Missed the Nobel Prize
Also see one of Prasher’s cool and freely available papers about a topic near and dear to my heart.
- O’Kane DJ, Woodward B, Lee J, Prasher DC. Borrowed proteins in bacterial bioluminescence. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1991 Feb 15;88(4):1100-4.