Lindau09: Island hopping

Tomorrow the Lindau Meeting shifts to another island in Lake Constance. Early in the morning, delegates will climb aboard a boat and be ferried across the lake to the island of Mainau – a trip taking more than a couple of hours. Here we will be treated to a panel discussion about ‘Global Warming and Sustainability’ with quite a distinguished line-up. As well as Laureates Molina and Schrock, the panel also includes Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – which won the Peace Prize in 2007. Other participants include the author Bjorn Lomborg, and Professors William Moomaw and Thomas Stocker.

Because it is unlikely I’ll have good web access tomorrow, I figured I should briefly post about Thursday’s activities before I go. The first session of lectures amounted to a green fluorescent protein (GFP) extravaganza, with talks from Shimomura, Chalfie and Tsien (last year’s recipients of the chemistry prize). We were treated to some very colourful slides, including a green bunny and the incredible hulk! It was nice to hear both Chalfie and Tsien talk about Doug Prasher’s contribution to the area – the ‘missing’ Laureate in GFP research.

Both Chalfie and Tsien had stories to tell about getting their seminal papers published. Editors at a certain high-profile journal objected to Chalfie using the word ‘new’ in the title of his paper, saying that all work they published was new! Perhaps more amusing, however, was when someone from the art department got in touch with Chalfie about his cover image – they really liked the picture, but there was one colour they didn’t really like to use on the cover, so could they get rid of the green…?! ‘No’, said Chalfie.

Tsien’s story about publishing the crystal structure of GFP was one of referee trouble (at the same journal Chalfie struggled with). The first referee said that it was a competent crystal structure, but the protein was not very interesting! The second referee said it was all well and good but the paper didn’t answer the most important question about GFP – it’s biological role in the jellyfish! The manuscript was rejected and when Tsien appealed, the editor sent it to a third referee. Many months passed, however, and the third referee never replied. Then, on the internet, Tsien found a comment from someone saying that they had solved the crystal structure of GFP and it was coming out the following month in a different journal – Tsien forwarded this to the editor and the paper was accepted the next day! Moral of the story – be careful what you say on the internet…

Both Chalfie and Tsien had some great quotes – I include a few below (I can’t guarantee that I have the wording exactly correct, but the meaning remains unaltered):


It’s very hard to tell if an animal is touch-sensitive if it is dead!

I’m the accidental Laureate that got into the middle of this.

Students and postdocs are the real innovators in science.


Biology has the most interesting grand questions in all of science currently doable by individuals.

I was no smarter the day after I received the Nobel prize than the day before, but it made me a lot more famous!

Prizes are ultimately a matter of luck, so avoid being motivated or impressed by them.

After the coffee break, the final two lectures at this Lindau Meeting were delivered by Richard Schrock (Chemistry 2005) and Werner Arber (Physiology or Medicine 1978). Schrock gave us a tour through his Mo and W metathesis catalysts, showing some recent work on being able to make Z-olefins, rather than the more thermodynamically stable E isomers. He was also eager to point out that although his catalysts are air and water sensitive (in contrast to the Ru catalysts of Grubbs and others), this does not matter if (i) you’re making a billion-dollar drug or (ii) there is no other way of doing the same reaction. Anyone out there in pharma-land wish to comment on part (i)?

Finally, Countess Bernadotte wrapped up this part of the meeting, thanking the Laureates, the young researchers, the organisers and even the media – very nice to get a mention! We then headed off with Schrock to film with two students, although extracting a Nobel Laureate from adoring fans who want photos and autographs is not an easy task… but eventually we made it to the shoot location in a nearby hotel. Once that was finished, my headache finally got the better of me and I headed out of the heat and back to where I am staying – and now because it’s a really early start tomorrow (and I’m not a big fan of those), I’m off to bed…


Stuart Cantrill (Chief Editor, Nature Chemistry)

PS: There are lots of other people blogging from the meeting – check out some of these posts and have a poke around at each place for other Lindau entries here, here, here, here and here (apologies to those posts/bloggers I may have missed – feel free to leave links in the comments to this post).