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Nobel Prize-winning UC San Diego professor Roger Tsien dies at 64

Posted at 3:18 PM, Aug 31, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-31 18:18:07-04

SAN DIEGO - A memorial service is being planned for Roger Tsien, a longtime UC San Diego medical professor and Nobel laureate who died in Oregon at the age of 64.

Tsien, who died of unknown causes last Wednesday in Eugene, taught pharmacology, chemistry and biochemistry at the UCSD School of Medicine for 27 years.

He was a co-winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in chemistry, along with Osamu Shimomura, an emeritus professor at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and Martin Chalfie, a professor of biological sciences at Columbia University.

The trio collaborated to discover and develop green fluorescent protein -- derived from the jellyfish Aequorea victoria -- that scientists use to track different cellular processes at the same time.

According to UCSD, the proteins are now a fundamental fixture in life sciences labs around the world, allowing researchers to look into cells or whole animals, to watch molecules interact in real-time and ask questions once thought impossible.

Tsien once likened his work to "building and training molecular spies."

Tsien also helped develop experimental injectable fluorescent peptides that cause hard-to-see peripheral nerves to glow, allowing surgeons to avoid them when removing damaged or cancerous tissues.

"Every honor was justly deserved, and always received with humility," said UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla. "Roger was an extraordinary man -- kind, generous, gracious, and always the consummate scientist pushing the limits of his work to expand the possibilities of science. He was a rare talent we cannot replace."

Tsien was born in New York City, and according to UCSD, took an interest in chemistry when he was around 8 years old and earned his first Boy Scout merit badge in the subject.

In 1968, the then-16-year-old budding scientist took first prize in the prestigious Westinghouse Science Talent Search for high school seniors. He received degrees in chemistry and physics at Harvard and earned his doctorate in physiology in 1977 at the University of Cambridge in England.