American biochemist and Nobel laureate (1952–2016)
Roger Yonchien Tsien (pronounced , "
" CHEN ; February 1, 1952 – August 24, 2016) was an American
biochemist. He was a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the
University of California, San Diego
and was awarded the
 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery and development of the
green fluorescent protein, in collaboration with
Osamu Shimomura and
Tsien was also a pioneer of
 calcium imaging.
Tsien was born to a
Chinese American family in New York, in 1952.
He grew up in
 Livingston, New Jersey
 Livingston High School.
Tsien traces his family ancestry to
China. His father
Hsue-Chu Tsien, an
Shanghai Jiao Tong University alumnus, was a
engineer and had excelled academically, graduating at the top of his university class.
Tsien suffered from asthma as a child, and as a result, he was often indoors. He spent hours conducting chemistry experiments in his basement laboratory. When he was 16, he won first prize in the nationwide
Westinghouse Talent Search with a project investigating how metals bind to
Harvard College on a
National Merit Scholarship, where he was elected to
Phi Beta Kappa as a junior.
 summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in
physics in 1972.
According to his freshman-year roommate, economist and Iowa politician
 Herman Quirmbach, "It's probably not an exaggeration to say he's the smartest person I ever met ... [a]nd I have met a lot of brilliant people."
After completing his bachelor's degree, Tsien joined the
Physiological Laboratory at the
University of Cambridge in
England with the aid of a
Marshall Scholarship, and resided at
Churchill College, Cambridge.
He received his
 Ph.D. in
physiology in 1977 for research on The Design and Use of Organic Chemical Tools in Cellular Physiology
formally supervised by
 Richard Adrian in the Department of Physiology and assisted by Andy Holmes, Gerry Smith and
Jeremy Sanders in the Department of Chemistry.
Research and career
Following his Ph.D., Tsien was a Research Fellow at
Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge from 1977 to 1981.
He was appointed to the faculty at the
 University of California, Berkeley, from 1982 to 1989.
Beginning in 1989, he worked at the
 University of California, San Diego, as Professor of Pharmacology and Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry,
and as an investigator of the
 Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Tsien contributed to the fields of cell biology and neurobiology by discovering genetically programmable fluorescent tags, thereby allowing scientists to watch the behavior of molecules in living cells in real time. He also developed fluorescent indicators of
calcium ions and other ions important in biological processes.
GFP Movie showing entire structure and zoom in to fluorescent chromophore. Movie created by Erik A. Rodriguez with UCSF
in memory of Roger Y. Tsien for the Birch Aquarium.
In 2004, Tsien was awarded the
Wolf Prize in Medicine "for his seminal contribution to the design and biological application of novel fluorescent and photolabile molecules to analyze and perturb cell signal transduction."
In 2008, Tsien shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with
Osamu Shimomura and
Martin Chalfie for "the green fluorescent protein: discovery, expression and development."
fluorescent proteins developed in Tsien's lab are used by scientists to track where and when certain genes are expressed in cells or in whole organisms. Typically, the gene coding for a protein of interest is fused with the gene for a fluorescent protein, which causes the protein of interest to glow inside the cell when the cell is irradiated with a suitable wavelength of light and allows microscopists to track its location in real time. This is such a popular technique that it has added a new dimension to the fields of molecular biology, cell biology, and biochemistry.
Since the discovery of the
GFP, numerous different mutants of GFP have been engineered and tested.
The first significant leap forward was a
 single point mutation (S65T) reported by Tsien in 1995 in Nature.
This mutation dramatically improved the fluorescent (both
 intensity and
photostability) and spectral characteristics of GFP. A shift of the major excitation peak to 488 nm with the emission peak staying at 509 nm thus can be clearly observed, which matched very well the spectral characteristics of commonly available
FITC facilities. All these then largely amplified the practicality of using GFP by scientists in their research. Tsien mainly contributed to much of our understanding of how GFP works and for developing new techniques and mutants of GFP.
Former trainees of Roger Y. Tsien include Atsushi Miyawaki and
Alice Y. Ting.
Timelines of GFP-development involved by Tsien:
1994: Tsien showed the mechanism that GFP
chromophore is formed in a chemical reaction which requires
oxygen but without help from the other proteins. 1994–1998: Tsien and collaborators made various GFP mutants by genetic modification and structural tweaking. Newly created variants of GFP can shine more brightly and show different colours, such as yellow, cyan, and blue.
2000–2002: Tsien produced monomeric variants of DsRED, which can glow in shades of red, pink, and orange. Remarkably, since then complicated marcromolecular networks of living organisms can be labelled or marked by using "all the colours of the rainbow".
Other detailed highlights involved by Tsien:
2002: The critical structural difference between GFP and DsRed was revealed. One extra double-bond in the chromophore of DsRed extends its conjugation thus causes the red-shift.
2002: Monomeric DsRed (mRFP) was first developed.
2004: New "fruit" FPs were generated (by in vitro and in vivo directed evolutions).
In 2009, a new kind of Infrared Fluorescent Protein (IFP) was developed by Tsien's group, and further reported and described by
. The new IFPs are developed from
phytochromes instead of from
multicellular organism like
jellyfish. Under normal conditions, bacterial phytochromes absorb light for signaling instead of fluorescence, but they can be turned fluorescent after deleting some of the signaling parts by
genetic means such as
site-directed mutagenesis. In order to fluoresce, IFPs require an exogenous
In 2016, a new class of
fluorescent protein was evolved from a
Trichodesmium erythraeum phycobiliprotein, α-
allophycocyanin, and named small ultra red fluorescent protein (
autocatalytically self-incorporates the
biliverdin without the need of an external
protein, known as a
 Jellyfish- and
coral-derived fluorescent proteins require
oxygen and produce a
stoichiometric amount of
hydrogen peroxide upon
 smURFP does not require
oxygen or produce
hydrogen peroxide and uses the
smURFP has a large
extinction coefficient (180,000 M −1 cm −1) and has a modest
quantum yield (0.20), which makes it comparable biophysical brightness to
eGFP and ~2-fold brighter than most red or far-red
fluorescent proteins derived from
smURFP spectral properties are similar to the organic dye
Next generation sequencing
Roger Tsien had built the foundation of next generation sequencing technology that is widely used today. On 26 October 1990,
Roger Tsien et al. filed a patent of stepwise ("base-by-base") sequencing with removable 3' blockers on DNA arrays. Illumina integrated this concept with DNA cloning for their next generation sequencer.
Tsien was a pioneer of
calcium imaging and known for developing various dyes which become fluorescent in the presence of particular ions such as calcium.
One such dye,
 fura-2, is widely used to track changes of calcium concentration within cells.
fluo-3, other popular calcium indicators, were also developed by Tsien's group in 1985 and 1989 respectively. He has also developed fluorescent indicators for other ions such as magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, lead, cadmium, aluminum, nickel, cobalt, and mercury.
Aequorin is also a useful tool to indicate calcium level inside cells; however, it has some limitations, primarily is that its prosthetic group coelenterazine is consumed irreversibly when emits light, thus requires continuous addition of coelenterazine into the media. To overcome such issues, Tsien's group also developed the
calmodulin-based sensor, named
FlAsH-EDT2 is a biochemical method for specific covalent labeling of proteins harboring a tetracysteine motif (CCXXCC). It's a method based on recombinant protein molecules, and was developed by Tsien and his colleagues in 1998.
Fluorescein ar senical helix binder, bis- EDT adduct, "EDT": 1,2-ethanedithiol.
Fluorescence-assisted cancer surgery
Mouse experiments by Tsien's group suggest that cancer surgery can be guided and assisted by fluorescent
peptides. The peptides are used as probes, and are harmless to living tissues and organs. Their lifetime in the body is only 4 or 5 days.
Clinical trials are awaited.
Tsien was also a notable biochemical inventor and holds or co-holds about 100 patents till 2010. In 1996, Tsien co-founded the Aurora Biosciences Corporation, which went public in 1997. In 2001, Aurora was acquired by the
Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Tsien was also a scientific co-founder of
Senomyx in 1999.
Tsien also promoted science education to promising young scientists through the first-ever San Diego Science Festival Lunch with a Laureate Program.
According to the
Qian (Tsien) clan
genealogy book, Tsien is a 34th-generational descendant of King
Qian Liu of the
Wuyue Kingdom of ancient China. His family belongs to the line of King
Tsien's parents Hsue-Chu Tsien and Yi-Ying Li (李懿颖) came from
 Hangzhou and
Tsien had a number of engineers in his extended family, including his father
Hsue-Chu Tsien who was an
mechanical engineer and his mother's brothers Y. T. Li (李耀滋) and Shihying Lee (李诗颖), who were engineering professors at MIT. Tsien's mother Yi-Ying Li was a nurse.
The famous rocket scientist
 Tsien Hsue-shen, regarded as the co-founding father of the
Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the
California Institute of Technology and, later, the director of the Chinese
space programs, is a cousin of Tsien's father.
Tsien was the younger brother of
Richard Tsien, a renowned neurobiologist currently at
New York University,
and Louis Tsien, a software engineer. Tsien, who called his own work molecular engineering, once said, "I'm doomed by heredity to do this kind of work." 
He was married to Wendy Globe.
Tsien died on August 24, 2016.
Although the specific cause of death was not disclosed, it was reported that he died while on a bike trail in
 Eugene, Oregon.
Prior to his death, Tsien had survived
 cancer and suffered a
stroke in 2013.
"He was ahead of us all," said Tsien's wife, Wendy. "He was ever the adventurer, the pathfinder, the free and soaring spirit. Courage, determination, creativity and resourcefulness were hallmarks of his character. He accomplished much. He will not be forgotten."
Awards and honors
Roger Y. Tsien has received numerous honors and awards in his life, including:
National 1st Prize, Westinghouse Science Talent Search (1968)
National Merit Scholarship, USA (1968)
Detur Prize, Harvard College (1969)
Marshall Scholarship, British government (1972) Comyns Berkeley Research Fellowship,
Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge (1977) Gedge Prize, University of Cambridge (1978)
Searle Scholar, Searle Scholar program (1983)
New York Academy of Sciences (1986) Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award,
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (1989) Young Scientist Award, Passano Foundation (1991)
W. Alden Spencer Award in Neurobiology,
Columbia University (1991)
Artois-Baillet-Latour Health Prize, Belgium (1995)
Gairdner Foundation International Award, Canada (1995) Basic Research Prize,
American Heart Association (1995) Elected to the United States
Institute of Medicine (1995) Doctorate
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium (1995) Faculty Research Lecturer, UC San Diego (1997)
Elected to the
American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1998) Elected to the
United States National Academy of Sciences (1998) Award for Innovation in High Throughput Screening, Society for Biomolecular Screening (1998)
Royal Microscopical Society (2000) ACS Award for Creative Invention,
American Chemical Society (2002)
Christian B. Anfinsen Award, Protein Society (2002)
Heineken Prize for Biochemistry and Biophysics,
Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (2002)
Max Delbrück Medal,
Max Delbrück Centrum für Molekulare Medizin, Berlin (2002)
Wolf Prize in Medicine, Israel (2004)
Keio Medical Science Prize, Japan (2004) UCSD Chancellor's Associates Award for Excellence in Science & Engineering Research, UC San Diego (2004)
Perl-UNC Neuroscience Prize, University of North Carolina (2004) Associate
EMBO Member of the
European Molecular Biology Organization 2005.
 J.Allyn Taylor International Prize in Medicine,
Robarts Research Institute, Canada (2005)
Association of Biomolecular Resource Facilities (2006)
Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in the Basic Medical Sciences,
Brandeis University (2006)
 Elected a
Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) in 2006
 BioPharma Leadership Award, the 6th Annual San Diego BioPharma Conference, San Diego (2007)
US Department of Defense (DoD) Breast Cancer Innovator Award
Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Sweden (2008)
E.B. Wilson Medal,
American Society for Cell Biology (2008) Honorary Fellow of the
Royal Society of Chemistry (HonFRSC), UK (2008)
 Honorary Academician,
Academia Sinica (2008)
 February 18, 2009,
Roger Tsien Day, in the City of San Diego, California, USA Distinguished Science and Technology Award, The 2009 Asian American Engineers of the Year (AAEoY) Award (April 2009)
 Lifetime Innovation Award, UC San Diego (May 20, 2009)
 AHA Distinguished Scientists, American Heart Association (2009)
Molecular Imaging Achievement Award, Society of Molecular Imaging (2009)
Doctor of Science
The University of Hong Kong (2009)
 Doctor of Science
Chinese University of Hong Kong (2009)
 General President Gold Medal, the 97th
Indian Science Congress, India (January 3, 2010)
 Spiers Memorial Award, Royal Society of Chemistry, UK (2010)
Golden Goose Award (2012)
 Golden Plate Award of the
American Academy of Achievement (2012)
Named lectures and lectureships
American Physiological Society (1992)
 Hans L. Falk Memorial Lectureship,
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (1993) Quastel Lectureship,
Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1994) President's Lectureship,
American Thoracic Society (1994) Roger Eckert Memorial Lecture, Göttingen Neurobiology Conference of the German Neuroscience Society (1995)
Melvin Calvin Lectureship, UC Berkeley (1999)
Herbert Sober Lectureship,
American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (2000) Keith Porter Lecture, American Society for Cell Biology (2003)
Konrad Bloch Lectureship, Harvard University (2003)
Grass Foundation Lectureship, Society for Neuroscience (2004)
Academia Sinica Lecturer (the highest honor of the academy), Dec 2009
 The 2010 National Lecturer of the
Biophysical Society (the highest honor of the society)
 The 2011
UCL Prize Lecture in Clinical Science (
University College, London)
"Roger Y. Tsien, chemist shared Nobel for tool to research Alzheimer's, dies at 64". The Washington Post. August 31, 2016 . Retrieved . September 1, 2016
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Royal Society. Archived from
the original on November 17, 2015. One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from the royalsociety.org website where:
All text published under the heading 'Biography' on Fellow profile pages is available under
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License." --
"Royal Society Terms, conditions and policies". Archived from the original on September 25, 2015 . Retrieved . March 9, 2016
: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (
cite web}} link)
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(PhD thesis). University of Cambridge.
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, September 15, 2006. Accessed September 18, 2007. "At age 16, Tsien won first prize in the nationwide Westinghouse talent search with a project investigating how metals bind to thiocyanate." Journal of Biological Chemistry
^ Swayze, Bill.
"Jersey teens call science a winner: Two finalists say just being in Westinghouse talent competition is prize enough",
, March 11, 1997. Accessed September 18, 2007. "Only one New Jersey teenager has ever captured top honors in the history of the competition. That was Roger Tsien in 1968. The then-16-year-old Livingston High School math-science whiz explored the way subatomic particles act as bridges between two dissimilar metal atoms in various complex molecules." The Star-Ledger
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Shaner N, Steinbach P, Tsien R (2005).
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Heim R, Cubitt A, Tsien R (1995).
"Improved green fluorescence" (PDF). Nature. 373 (6516): 663–4.
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Xiaokun Shu; Antoine Royant; Michael Z. Lin; Todd A. Aguilera; Varda Lev-Ram; Paul A. Steinbach; Roger Y. Tsien (2009).
"Mammalian Expression of Infrared Fluorescent Proteins Engineered from a Bacterial Phytochrome". Science. 324 (5928): 804–07.
Rodriguez, Erik A.; Tran, Geraldine N.; Gross, Larry A.; Crisp, Jessica L.; Shu, Xiaokun; Lin, John Y.; Tsien, Roger Y. (August 1, 2016).
"A far-red fluorescent protein evolved from a cyanobacterial phycobiliprotein". Nature Methods. 13 (9): 763–9.
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Miyawaki A, Llopis J, Heim R, McCaffery JM, Adams JA, Ikurak M, Tsien RY (1997).
"Fluorescent indicators for Ca. 2+ based on green fluorescent proteins and calmodulin" Nature. 388 (6645): 882–7.
B. Albert Griffin; Stephen R. Adams; Roger Y. Tsien (1998). "Specific Covalent Labeling of Recombinant Protein Molecules Inside Live Cells". Science. 281 (5374): 269–72.
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^ Interview, Roger Tsien.
The light fantastic, pages 7-9 in The Biologist, Biochemistry Supplement. Vol 62 No 5 supplement. Oct/Nov 2015
San Diego Science Festival Lunch with a Laureate
[Nobel Chemistry Prize winner Roger Tsien is the 34th-generational descendant of the King of Wuyue] (in Chinese).
诺贝尔化学奖得主钱永健系吴越国王34世孙 Sina.com. October 9, 2008 . Retrieved . October 9, 2008
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Ma, Huan; Li, Boxing; Tsien, Richard W. (2015).
"Distinct roles of multiple isoforms of CaMKII in signaling to the nucleus". Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - Molecular Cell Research. 1853 (9): 1953–1957.
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本院邀請諾貝爾化學獎得主錢永健教授12月蒞臨「中央研究院講座」演講 Academia Sinica. December 11, 2009 . Retrieved . December 27, 2009
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