The latest holiday gifts being offered to the scientific community this season by scientists in the laboratory of Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Roger Y. Tsien come in a dazzling variety of hues -- cherry, strawberry, tangerine, tomato, orange, banana and honeydew. The color spectrum would make Pantone proud.
No, Tsiens group is not giving out fruit baskets; the names describe vibrant new varieties of fluorescent protein that the researchers have created to tag cells and observe a range of cellular processes. By splicing the genes for the fluorescent proteins into specific genes in the cell, researchers can detect when those genes are switched on to produce proteins. They can then use the telltale fluorescent colors to separate the cells visually. The availability of the new colors will enable scientists to track the effects of multiple genetic alterations in a single cell.
Tsien and his colleagues at the University of California, San Diego, published a research article describing the new fluorescent proteins in the December 2004 issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology. Lead author on the paper was HHMI predoctoral fellow Nathan C. Shaner in Tsiens laboratory. In separate studies, Tsiens team "borrowed" the immune systems machinery for generating antibody diversity and used it to evolve a new red fluorescent protein.
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