How does it glow?
Multiple colors of fluorescent protein, introduced into its DNA (2008)
What can we learn?
One of the team of scientists that won a 2008 Nobel Prize for green fluorescent protein–Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie, and Roger Y. Tsien–couldn’t resist showing off their creation a bit. From Tsien’s lab comes this artful plate with selectively swabbed fluorescent bacteria. The discovery of green fluorescent protein by Shimomura in 1956 was the result of crushing countless jellyfish. After publishing his findings in 1962, Shimomura studied GFP in detail and realized that no extra fuel was needed to make it glow–other glowing substances need chemical additives to shine. GFP, by contrast, just needed to be exposed to ultraviolet light.Chalfie, the third of the GFP Nobel winners, realized the maintenance-free protein could be used to literally watch how creatures work. He proved with the intestinal bacterium E.
coli that GFP alone–with no fuel–glowed, and promptly started putting it into roundworms.Roger Tsien kicked it up a notch by reengineering GFP to be cyan, blue, and yellow. Yet more colors were found in fluorescent coral. He remixed these materials into glowing proteins such as “mPlum,” “mStrawberry,” and “mOrange.”Though their inventions may have revolutionized the fields of medicine, biology, and chemistry, the fluorescent proteins also have creative applications, as shown above. Fluorescent proteins have also been used in the name of art to make sculptures out of glowing beakers and live glowing rabbits.
— Photograph courtesy UC San Diego via AP