Fluorescence. Glow in the dark science.

There has been a lot of attention on fluorescent proteins lately. Yesterday the NY times featured an article in the Scientist at Work column about, “The Holy Grail of Fluorescent Proteins.”  In the article it makes note of one of the first fluorescent proteins, the green fluorescent protein (GFP), which was first extracted from jelly fish found in waters off the coast of Puget Sound.

This is the same protein that I have my students transform E. coli with in the classic bio rad pGLO/GFP kit. If you are an advanced biology teacher I highly recommend this lab practical. The experiment has students grow E. coli exposed to a plasmid that has ampicillin resistant gene, and the gene for the GFP protein. The results are great, and there are several extension as well as connections to current research. Here is a link to Paul Anderson’s (Bozemanbiology)  youtube explanation of the lab.

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City currently has an exhibit entitled Creatures of the Light: Natures Bioluminescence.

Enzymes and dyes allow scientists to see structural nuances of animals such as this Secutor ruconius. © AMNH/J. Sparks.

While visiting the Reef HQ aquarium which is the largest coral reef aquarium in the world I was captivated by the flashlight fish.

wikipedia says, “Flashlight fish are named for their large bioluminescent organs. These are located beneath the eyes and contain luminous bacteria. Two methods are used by different species for controlling light emission, either a shutter-like lid is raised over the organ or the organ is turned downward into a pouch. The light is used for predator avoidance, to attract prey, and for communication”

What allows for this ultra efficient reaction to convert energy to light? The enzyme luciferase. The bacteria live in the pouches under the flashlight fish eyes use is the same enzyme used by fireflies to make their lanterns glow. The reaction is incredibly efficient, and nearly all the energy is transferred into making light.

Pretty neat huh?


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