The glow emitted by a variety of sea coral helped Russian scientists harness the protein that generates the light to create a tiny fluorescent tag that responds to visible light. The two-color tag should help researchers follow individual proteins as they dart around inside living cells.
An image of a single mamalian cell with green-to-red fluorescent Dendra marking fibrillarin, a protein concentrated in nucleoli, which are small, round bodies in the cells nucleus, composed of protein and RNA. Image: Sergey Lukyanov
Under a microscope, the two-color tag—called Dendra because it is derived from the sea coral Dendronephthya—first shows up as a green glow, highlighting the otherwise invisible protein to which it is attached. The green turns to red when the tags are zapped with an intense pulse of visible blue light.
The dramatic color change "makes it possible to precisely label an object, such as a cell, organelle, or protein, with a flash of light and then to follow the objects movement over time," said Konstantin Lukyanov, whose group conducted the Dendra research in the lab of his brother, Sergey Lukyanov, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) international research scholar at the Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow. "This tool opens new possibilities for studying protein and organelle dynamics in living cells, cell migration during embryogenesis, inflammation, and other pathological and normal processes," he said.
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