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 fluorescencethe process of transformation of blue "excitation" light into green "emission" lightincluding 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 10
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University of California - San Diego