Posted by: shrikantmantri | November 2, 2008

Open Science Pioneer Award: Douglas Prasher and the Sharing of the GFP Gene

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”

Thanks so much Dr Raghav for sharing this story on Inbios forum


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