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Nobel laureate seeks more basic research in life sciences

Special Correspondent
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Nobel laureate Martin Chalfie stresses need for good research environment

Insights: Nobel Laureate Martin Chalfie delivering a lecture at the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Bio-technology in Thiruvananthapuram on Thursday. — Photo: S. Mahinsha
Insights: Nobel Laureate Martin Chalfie delivering a lecture at the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Bio-technology in Thiruvananthapuram on Thursday. — Photo: S. Mahinsha

Nobel Laureate Martin Chalfie on Thursday emphasised the need for more basic research in life sciences.

It is the engine which drives innovation. This provides insights and leads to advances in agriculture and industry, he said during a

90-minute lecture on ‘Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP): lighting up life,' organised by the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology here on Thursday.

Dr. Chalfie said all life should be studied and not just model organisms. His research had taught him that scientific success comes via many routes. Many, if not most, of the discoveries were accidental, while scientific progress is cumulative, a bunch of small steps that add up, he said.

Scientists absorb from other research work, modify them to arrive at new conclusions and give it to others to continue from there, he said.

Dr. Chalfie, who shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with Dr. Osamu Shimomura and Dr. Roger Y. Tsien, said GFP, a new marker in gene expression, enabled scientists to better understand how organs function, finding mutants and isolating cells. Narrating the problems of research in the field, he said GFP had helped in looking at the nervous system in a new light. Such research is not confined to biological cells alone as it found application in other fields like locating land mines, he said.

When a questioner wanted to know what made University of Columbia, where he conducted his research, so special to have produced so many Nobel Prize winners, Dr. Chalfie, in a lighter vein, said, “It is the water.” He emphasised the need for good research environment that helped scientists to take chances. “My university does not care what I do. I try anything and do what I want to. This is not so in the case of a company, which might not to spend when it is losing money,” he said.

Dr. Chalfie differentiated grant and contract as a means of research funding. Under a contract, the scientist is committed to deliver. “Grant funding will judge what you produce,” he said. The Nobel laureate had quite a few tips for the postdoctoral students of RGCB seeking to pursue research. “Post docs and students are lab innovators,” he remarked.

Homework

He advised the students to do their homework while applying for research in a laboratory or for a fellowship because most scientists looked for innovators, who would bring in their contribution to research.

M. Radhakrishna Pillai, Director, Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology, felicitated Dr. Chalfie by presenting him a memento on behalf of the institute. Sathish Mundiyoor, Dean, RGCB, introduced Dr. Chalfie to the audience. Earlier in the day, Dr. Chalfie delivered a lecture at the University of Kerala.

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