Osamu Shimomura 1928 – Present

Osamu Shimomura

Osamu Shimomura displays the Patent of the Order of Culture. Photo by Tom Kleindinst.

Osamu Shimomura graduated from Nagasaki College of Pharmacy in 1951 and worked as a research student in Organic Chemistry at the laboratory of Professor Hirata at Nagoya University from 1955 to 1958. He obtained his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Nagoya University in 1960. He was a research biochemist at Princeton University from 1960 to 1982.

In 1961, while he was a researcher at Princeton University, he discovered GFP (the green fluorescent protein) in the jellyfish Aequorea at the same time that he discovered the animal’s bioluminescing molecule, a blue-light-emitting protein that he called Aequorin. Dr. Shimomura was the first person to purify both GFP and bioluminescing protein Aequorin from 10,000 jellyfish that he and his wife Akemi, his research assistant throughout his career, collected at Friday Harbor Laboratories, University of Washington. Today, GFP is a guiding star for biochemists, medical scientists, and other researchers. With the aid of GFP, researchers have developed ways to watch processes that were previously invisible, such as the development of nerve cells in the brain or how cancer cells spread.

Dr. Shimomura was an MBL senior scientist from 1982-2001, prior to his retirement. During Dr. Shimomura’s tenure at the MBL, he was an integral part of the MBL’s research activities, presenting scientific reports in the MBL General Scientific Meetings, authoring articles in the scientific journal based at the MBL, The Biological Bulletin, and serving as an expert advisor on the green fluorescent protein. Dr. Shimomura has been a member of the MBL Corporation since 1988. In 2002, the MBL presented a symposium in honor of Dr. Shimomura’s achievements. He is now a senior scientist emeritus.

Dr. Shimomura was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2008 for his discovery of green fluorescent protein (GFP), “one of the most important tools in contemporary science and medicine for illuminating life at the microscopic level”. Dr. Shimomura is the 53rd scientist affiliated with the MBL since its founding in 1888 to receive the Nobel Prize. In November 2008, Dr. Shimomura was awarded the Order of Culture, the highest award given annually by the Emperor of Japan for high achievement in culture, the arts, or academia.

“Most of my knowledge came from self-study,” says Dr. Shimomura. “If you find an interesting subject, study it through to the finish. If you confront difficulties, overcome them. Don’t be discouraged. There are always difficulties in research.”

Osamu Shimomura Nobel Prize

Osamu Shimomura's Nobel Prize certificate

Osamu Shimomura Nobel Prize

Aequorea, the jellyfish from which Osamu Shimomura first purified green fluorescent protein. Credit: Osamu Shimomura