Thursday, October 09, 2008

Almost famous

Not everyone can be the best in their field; not everyone can even be in the top tier of practitioners in their art. And you know what, it's not always the most talented, the most brilliant, the most gifted who rise to the top. This happens for a variety of reasons: ambition, connections, perseverance, and even being in the right place at the right time have a big impact on potential recognition for one's work. Let's be honest, life ain't always fair in how things work out.

A story like this came over the wire today, relating to yesterday's awarding of the Nobel Prize in chemistry. For those of you who did not follow this prestigious award, the Nobel went to three researchers who took a gene from jellyfish that produces a protein that fluoresces under UV light and grafted it to other genes. This process allows them to track the movement of proteins in cells and is proving a tool of tremendous value for many areas of cellular and disease research. The jellyfish gene was given to two of the three Nobel awardees by the man who first isolated it, Douglas Prasher - you can read about how his work contributed to the Nobel winning work here.

Prasher was working at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute at the time, under a grant from American Cancer Society. It was difficult work to get funded, and he just managed to isolate and clone the gene before his grant ran out; however, he was not able to attempt the final step. Unable to get further funding he moved on, but not before gifting cloned gene samples to several people. Over the intervening years he went to a few other jobs, ending up at NASA in Huntsville, Alabama. When his project was cut and he lost his job there, 2-1/2 years ago, Prasher was unable to find another job in his field. To make ends meet, he has since been working as a courtesy shuttle driver for a car dealership.

One step, one funded grant, away from greatness. And now he spends his days driving a car. One of his former colleagues, upon hearing this, deemed it a "staggering waste of talent."

The point of this is not to feel sorry for Prasher (I get a feeling he is about to have some new opportunities in the field of science). The point is this: what did the people he has driven around every day for the last 2-1/2 years think of this man? Did they see him as just a peon, a loser who couldn't get a better job? Did they see him as just an ends to a means, a way to get around while their own car was inconveniently in the shop? Did they talk to him just like any other guy, treat him like anyone else? Did they ever suspect how close he was to fame? And, knowing it now, would they treat him differently?

Honestly, I'd feel the fool if I had been working with this guy, looking down on him for doing a menial job, then found out about his work being a big step towards a Nobel prize. But I really try not to treat people disrespectfully, not to look down on them for any reason; not because they could be someone great who is down on his luck, but because they simply are. Each of us is God's creation, each with the stamp of divine on our lives. Each of us fails, sometimes miserably, and makes a mess of our lives. Though a man may never rise above the circumstances in which he finds himself, he is still living out the bounty which God pours down on us all. We may feel superior at times, blessed in such a way that makes us seem better; this, too, is a deception that shows us the fool. God is no respecter of the differences between people, caring rather for the state of a man's heart. Should we not be the same?

Just a few thoughts that occurred to me this morning.

Tags: , ,


Sam said...

Quite sad really. I do hope that the winners of the Nobel Prize do make some acknowledgement of Prasher.

It just goes to show doesn't it - no-one knows who's sitting right in front of them!! Whether as a cab-driver, MacD's employee or road sweeper!!

Kate McDonald said...

I really liked this post... that genetic stuff is SO amazing...most of the time people who make big discoveries are underrated beforehand.

Post a Comment

Thanks for stopping by to leave a comment. Be nice, and it'll stay. Be mean, and it'll go.