Fish-like animal emanates bright and dim versions of fluorescent light, a phenomenon that could help guide human biotechnological applications
Pushing closer to understanding the mechanisms behind the mysterious glow of light produced naturally by certain animals, scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego have deciphered the structural components related to fluorescence brightness in a primitive sea creature.
In a study published in Scientific Reports, an open-access journal of the Nature Publishing Group, Dimitri Deheyn and his colleagues at Scripps Oceanography, the Air Force Research Laboratory, and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have conducted the most detailed examination of green fluorescent proteins (GFPs) in lancelets, marine invertebrates also known as “amphioxus.”
The fish-shaped animals, which spend much of their time in shallow coastal regions burrowed in sand except for their heads, offer unique insights on natural fluorescence since individual specimens can emit both very bright and much dimmer versions of the light, a rare capability in the animal kingdom.
The study carries implications for a variety of industries looking to maximize brightness of natural fluorescence—the process of transformation of blue “excitation” light into green “emission” light—including applications in biotechnology such as adapting fluorescence for biomedical protein tracers and for tracking the expression of specific genes in the human body.
In investigating the structural differences between the proteins with the two levels of light output, known to be generated by the GFPs inside amphioxus, Deheyn and his colleagues found that only a few key structural differences at the nanoscale allows the sea creature to emit different brightness levels. The differences relate to changes in stiffness around the animal’s “chromophore pocket,” the area of proteins responsible for molecular transformation of light, and thus light output intensity.
“We discovered that some of the amphioxus GFPs are able to transform blue light into green light with 100 percent efficiency (current engineered GFPs—traditionally rooted in the Cnidarian phylum—only reach 60 to 80 percent efficiency), which combines with other properties of light absorbance to make the amphioxus GFPs about five times brighter than current commercially available GFPs, resulting in effect to a huge difference,” said Deheyn. “It is also interesting that the same animal will also express similar GFPs with an efficiency of about 1,000 times less.”
The exact mechanism that controls this ability of perfect efficiency during light transformation from blue to green remains unknown, Deheyn said, but this study opens doors towards its understanding.
“The most unique part of this discovery perhaps lays in the fact that for the first time, we show that different GFPs seem to have different functions within the same individual and unrelated to their ability to produce light, thus probably involving a biochemical role as well,” said Deheyn. “Nevertheless, having bright GFPs or the tool to increase brightness in current ones is critical for optimizing applications of fluorescence.”
Amphioxus are thought to use fluorescence for photo-protection (thus acting as sunscreen), as an antioxidant, and possibly for photo-sensing (using GFPs as receptors to the surrounding light) in their environment. Deheyn says learning more about bright-emitting GFPs in nature is useful for a variety of applications and fields of science.
“The U.S. Air Force, and the Department of Defense in general, uses a large variety of biosensors in biomedicine, bioengineering, and materials science, and providing proteins with the ability to be very bright can help technology advance because of better signal-to-noise ratio.”
Coauthors of the paper include Erin Bomati of Scripps Oceanography; Joy Haley of the Air Force Research Laboratory; and Joseph Noel of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. The Air Force Office of Scientific Research supported the study.
Mario Aguilera | Eurek Alert!
Gene switch may repair DNA and prevent cancer
12.02.2016 | Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences at Kyoto University
New method opens crystal clear views of biomolecules
11.02.2016 | Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY
Today, plants and microorganisms are heavily used for the production of medicinal products. The production of biopharmaceuticals in plants, also referred to as “Molecular Pharming”, represents a continuously growing field of plant biotechnology. Preferred host organisms include yeast and crop plants, such as maize and potato – plants with high demands. With the help of a special algal strain, the research team of Prof. Ralph Bock at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Potsdam strives to develop a more efficient and resource-saving system for the production of medicines and vaccines. They tested its practicality by synthesizing a component of a potential AIDS vaccine.
The use of plants and microorganisms to produce pharmaceuticals is nothing new. In 1982, bacteria were genetically modified to produce human insulin, a drug...
Atomic clock experts from the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) are the first research group in the world to have built an optical single-ion clock which attains an accuracy which had only been predicted theoretically so far. Their optical ytterbium clock achieved a relative systematic measurement uncertainty of 3 E-18. The results have been published in the current issue of the scientific journal "Physical Review Letters".
Atomic clock experts from the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) are the first research group in the world to have built an optical single-ion clock...
The University of Würzburg has two new space projects in the pipeline which are concerned with the observation of planets and autonomous fault correction aboard satellites. The German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy funds the projects with around 1.6 million euros.
Detecting tornadoes that sweep across Mars. Discovering meteors that fall to Earth. Investigating strange lightning that flashes from Earth's atmosphere into...
Physicists from Saarland University and the ESPCI in Paris have shown how liquids on solid surfaces can be made to slide over the surface a bit like a bobsleigh on ice. The key is to apply a coating at the boundary between the liquid and the surface that induces the liquid to slip. This results in an increase in the average flow velocity of the liquid and its throughput. This was demonstrated by studying the behaviour of droplets on surfaces with different coatings as they evolved into the equilibrium state. The results could prove useful in optimizing industrial processes, such as the extrusion of plastics.
The study has been published in the respected academic journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America).
Exceeding critical temperature limits in the Southern Ocean may cause the collapse of ice sheets and a sharp rise in sea levels
A future warming of the Southern Ocean caused by rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere may severely disrupt the stability of the West...
12.02.2016 | Event News
09.02.2016 | Event News
02.02.2016 | Event News
12.02.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
12.02.2016 | Life Sciences
12.02.2016 | Medical Engineering