Dagummit! I've been scooped again by the guys at the other 95% by this post: The Other 95%: The Nobel Jelly - Aequorea victoria . They point out that one of the winners of this year's Nobel Prize for chemistry is marine biologist, chemist, and one time ostracodologist, Osamu Shimomura. [By the way, I didn't invent the word ostracodologist - we actually use that to describe ourselves].
Early in his career, Shimomura studied bioluminescence in Vargula hilgendorfii (he called it Cypridina hilgendorfii, which is a synonym for Vargula hilgendorfii. Vargula is usually used today, the taxonomy is a bit complicated, and I won't go into it here). After that, Shimomura went to work on the jellyfish Aequorea and its bioluminescence. It turns out that Aequorea produces light with a protein called aequorin, which sends light to another protein (Green Flourescent Protein=GFP) that emits green fluorescence. GFP is today used in all sorts of applications, as Eric at TO95% nicely explained.
There also is one more connection between GFP and ostracodology. An ostracodologist actually named GFP (Morin and Hastings, 1971)! Jim Morin is a prominent ostracodologist, who, with Anne Cohen has described, in often exquisite detail, the biology of bioluminescent ostracods from the Caribbean. In my talks on ostracods, I often use a slide based on their work:
Fig 1. Small blue circles represent discrete flashes of light produced by male bioluminescent cypridinid ostracods. Patterns of different species are illustrated, with white arrows showing the direction of swimming of an individual animal producing the pattern over time. Each pattern is characteristic of a different species and are performed above different microhabitats. Original figure in black and white line drawing by Jim Morin and Anne Cohen. Color and photos added by T. Oakley.
Male ostracods of this family signal to females using flashes of light in rather complex species-specific patterns, often over sterotyped microhabitats. These Caribbean species are related to Vargula hilgendorfii (ostrablog 5), which does not signal. In the Caribbean species, there are even "sneaker males", males that follow a signalling male, without using the energy to signal themselves, in an attempt to mate with females attracted to those signals. I guess in bars, humans call this something like a "wing man".
I think this is a great example of how solid basic research will often lead to great advances. Shimomura was interested in bioluminescence because of pure scientific curiosity. I doubt he was aiming for a Nobel. The general public often does not understand this. In the 1970's, I'm sure some people wondered why anyone would want to spend enormous time and energy studying a glowing protein of a jellyfish. But that scientific curiosity has now paid big dividends!