The 2008 Nobel prize package for chemistry (1.4 million Euros including the trip to Stockholm) went to Roger Tsien, Osamu Shimomura and Marty Chalfie for their work on a protein called GFP (Green Fluorescent Protein), a protein that glows green in the dark.
Osamu Shimomura had a lifetime work collecting and studying the crystal jellyfish (Aequorea Victoria) where this protein can be found (that’s why these animals are bioluminescent). Shimomura was the first one to isolate the pure GFP protein (1962)
Douglas Prasher had in the 80’s and early 90’s seminal papers reporting the isolation of the DNA that encodes for GFP. Without this work it wouldn’t have been possible to use this protein in organisms other than the Jellyfish. (GFP has nowadays several applications, many animals are glowing green right now...for medical investigation).
Chalfie, who already by then made important discoveries on the neurologic architecture of worms (his papers were published in top class journals in the 80’s), got very interested in GFP after he heard a talk on bioluminiscence. He wanted to make their worms glow green using this protein and for this he contacted Prasher.
Unfortunately for Prasher, his money run out and couldn’t continue with his research on GFP, but as any other good-hearted scientist, he provided the material he created to many other scientists including Tsien and Chalfie. Chalfie, with this material, managed to make bacteria and his worms glow green (a paper published in “Science” 1994 where still Prasher was co-author).
Tsien, on the other hand, managed to improve the fluorescence of GFP by creating several mutant proteins (“Nature” paper in 1995).
To make a long story short, Shimomura, Tsien and Chalfie got the Nobel prize for GFP, while Prasher end up as a shuttle driver for a car dealership (for 10 dollar/hour).
As good gesture, Prasher was offered to assist to the Nobel Prize ceremony (it must had been something like going to the wedding of your ex-girlfriend) where he was acknowledged for his contribution to Chalfie and Tsien work.
In june 2010 Prasher was finally able to return to science with a small contract with a research firm. Later he was able to work in Tsien's lab (2012-2015)
Its not only important to know what you are doing, but also to be in the right place and the right time to have Nobel prize winning papers (or at least papers)
All the best to Prasher and those anonymous heroes who pave the way for the very few to the top. (Someone knows who or where are the guys that worked on those papers? And what are they doing now?)
Unluckily Roger Tsien passed away at the age of 64. It seems unexpected and he will be for sure missed by colleages, friends and all the community that got to know him (even through only his papers)