There's just something really cool about things that glow in the dark. It's even more breathtaking
when the glowing originates from living creatures, like fireflies or deep sea fish. While nature uses bioluminescence for purposes such as attracting mates (or prey), humans seem to be more interested in bioengineering plants or animals that glow by using fluorescent proteins from organisms that produce them naturally. Here are some examples of what people are doing with fluorescent proteins.
- The Glowing Plant project is attempting to engineer the Arabidopsis thaliana (thale cress) plant to glow green-blue by giving it some firefly genes. The Kickstarter project raised $484,013, but there are concerns about the project's legality since it involves genetically modifying plants. The Canadian ETC Group, which has a history of opposing synthetic biology applications, has even launched a "kickstopper" campaign to stop the project. [url]
- Japanese researchers have discovered the first fluorescent protein in vertebrates, in the Unagi freshwater eel. While Unagi are considered a delicacy in Japan, very little was known about its biology. To their surprise, the researchers found that bilirubin (the human blood marker for liver function and jaundice) activated the UnaG fluorescent protein's green light emission. So they developed a fast and accurate new clinical test for bilirubin based on it binding to the UnaG protein to turn on its glow. [url]
- Some researchers are looking for ways to use bioluminescence for lighting applications. The main limitation is that fluorescent proteins don't emit enough light to provide a meaningful light source. However, firefly and biolumiscent bacteria genes can be engineered to make the fluorescent proteins shine brighter. Introducing these proteins into trees could then turn them into natural streetlights. [url]
- Researchers in Japan have genetically engineered silkworms to produce red, green, and orange silks that glow under fluorescent lights. They used fluorescent protein genes from Fungia concinna coral (orange), Discoma coral (red), and jellyfish (green). [url]
If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post