All other topics this morning have been moved down the queue by the sad and sudden news that Roger Tsien has died. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, this took place during a visit to Oregon, and other reports mention that he was on a bike trail at the time. Whether this was due to an accident or a sudden medical emergency isn’t clear, but what is very clear is that everyone had been expecting to benefit from his work and his insights for some time to come.
He was, of course, a Nobel laureate in chemistry in 2008 for fluorescent proteins as research tools, but this was just one facet of a wide research career (see, for example, his hypothesis about long-term memory formation). But there’s no doubt that he’s most known for the work in which he and his co-workers discovered and developed a wide array of fluorescent proteins, work that has continued the whole time, with a Nature Methods paper just published on a very useful far-red protein of a different type than all the earlier ones in the field. Tsien’s discoveries have been crucial for visualizing molecular biology techniques as applied to living cells and in vitro protein systems, and everyone doing biopharma discovery research will constantly encounter proteins, assays, and cell lines based on them.
It is no exaggeration to say that he changed the course of the field; he gave it spectacularly useful tools it had never had before. Tsien’s loss is a sudden blow, and I’m sure I can speak for many others when I say that it’s news that we all could have done without just now.