Navigation Links
Researchers show fruit flies have latent bioluminescence

WORCESTER, Mass. New research from scientists at the University of Massachusetts Medical School shows that fruit flies are secretly harboring the biochemistry needed to glow in the dark otherwise known as bioluminescence.

The key to activating this latent ability is a novel synthetic analog of D-luciferin developed at UMMS. The findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that the inherent biochemistry needed for bioluminescence is more common than previously thought. Synthetic luciferins can unmask latent enzymatic activity capable of producing light in animals not known for their luminescence. This expands the scope of bioluminescence imaging for research, and adds new tools for the noninvasive studying of ongoing biological processes.

Few animals can naturally glow in the dark. The best known example, the firefly, creates bioluminescence when the small molecule D-luciferin is oxidized by the enzyme luciferase, which is only found in beetles.

The luciferase enzyme is believed to have evolved from the fatty acyl-CoA synthetases (ACSLs) found in all insects. Both classes of enzymes are members of the adenylate-forming superfamily and can activate fatty acids. But only luciferase catalyzes light emission from D-luciferin. Stephen C Miller, PhD, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology at UMass Medical School, had previously found that some mutations in the luciferase enzyme reduce light emission from the natural D-luciferin substrate, but improve light emission when using synthetic luciferins developed in his lab.

"This suggested to us that the failure of insect ACSLs to emit light with the beetle luciferase substrate D-luciferin didn't necessarily mean they weren't capable of the biochemistry needed to glow," said Dr. Miller, senior author of the PNAS study.

He hypothesized that ACSL enzymes in other insects are capable of a bioluminescent reaction similar to the firefly. The key was finding a small molecule to fill the role of D-luciferin, which is not a substrate for ACSLs, to kick start the biochemical reaction.

Suspecting that D-luciferin was in fact a poor substrate for ACSLs due to its shape, Miller and colleagues David Mofford, a fourth year doctoral candidate in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and first author of the study and Randheer Gadarla, PhD, postdoctoral research fellow, tested a number of synthetic luciferins he had developed to see if they had the geometry necessary to initiate bioluminescence using the fatty acyl-CoA synthetase CG6178 found in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster.

Miller found that when this fruit fly protein was treated with a rigid synthetic analog of D-luciferin, named CycLuc2, it emitted a red glow. Simply adding CycLuc2 to live Drosophila cells was sufficient to make them glow as well. When CG6178 was expressed in mammalian cells, they too were able to emit light in the presence of CycLuc2.

"We think the unique rigid and asymmetric ring structure of the synthetic CycLuc2 molecule acts as a handle to help properly align it within the enzyme so adenylation can occur. Once that happens, the molecule can be oxidized to emit light," said Miller. "D-luciferin doesn't fit properly so the biochemical reaction necessary to initiate bioluminescence can't get started."

These findings suggest that other bioluminescent enzymatic activities may already exist in nature, waiting to be revealed by a suitable luciferin analog. Having multiple luciferases with unique substrates increases the amount of information that can be gained using this technique. And because it doesn't require changing the underlying DNA, utilizing endogenous proteins as luciferases could greatly impact the potential uses of bioluminescence imaging to study gene expression, understand infection, track cancer cells, or gauge the effectiveness of new drugs.

"These synthetic substrates expand the scope of bioluminescence beyond what was previously thought possible," said Miller. "It's going to give scientists new tools to study fundamental biological processes noninvasively in live cells and animals, possibly using an endogenous enzyme rather than firefly luciferase."

One of the next steps for Dr. Miller and colleagues will be exploring whether synthetic luciferins can unmask latent luciferase activity in human ACSL enzymes.


Contact: Jim Fessenden
University of Massachusetts Medical School

Related biology news :

1. Researchers develop novel molecular blood group typing technique
2. Researchers discover how the kissing disease virus hijacks human cells
3. Researchers say Neanderthals were no strangers to good parenting
4. UNC researchers show how cancer cells may respond to mechanical force
5. Dartmouth researchers identify potential therapeutic target for deadly brain cancer
6. Researchers find arid areas absorb unexpected amounts of atmospheric carbon
7. Researchers receive $1.14 million to study threats to honey bees
8. Swedish researchers show impact of long-term vitamin D insufficiency on fracture risk
9. Guelph researchers solve part of hagfish slime mystery
10. Researchers design trees that make it easier to produce paper
11. Researchers manipulate tiny objects with ultrasound
Post Your Comments:
(Date:11/9/2015)... JOSE, Calif. , Nov. 9, 2015  Synaptics ... human interface solutions, today announced broader entry into the ... vehicle-specific solutions that match the pace of consumer electronics ... and biometric sensors are ideal for the automotive industry ... vehicle. Europe , ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... RESTON, Va. , Oct. 29, 2015 ... announced today that it has released a new version ... Daon customers in North America ... gains. IdentityX v4.0 also includes a FIDO UAF ... customers are already preparing to activate FIDO features. These ...
(Date:10/27/2015)... , Oct. 27, 2015 In the present ... of concern for various industry verticals such as banking, ... to the growing demand for secure & simplified access ... ,sectors, such as hacking of bank accounts, misuse of ... equipment such as PC,s, laptops, and smartphones are expected ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/25/2015)... ... 25, 2015 , ... Jessica Richman and Zachary Apte, founders ... initial angel funding process. Now, they are paying it forward to other microbiome ... investments in the microbiome space. In this, they join other successful entrepreneurs-turned-angels ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... 2015 Halozyme Therapeutics, Inc. (NASDAQ: HALO ) will ... New York on Wednesday, December 2 at 9:30 a.m. ... and CEO, will provide a corporate overview. th ... at 1:00 p.m. ET/10:00 a.m. PT . Jim Mazzola ... a corporate overview. --> th Annual Oppenheimer Healthcare ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... CITY , Nov. 24, 2015 /PRNewswire/ - Aeterna ... request of IIROC on behalf of the Toronto Stock ... news release there are no corporate developments that would ... --> --> About ... . --> Aeterna Zentaris is ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... ... The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), led by its Executive Council, has officially ... to represent the First–Person View (FPV) racing community. , FPV racing has exploded in ... racing and several new model aviation pilots have joined the community because of their ...
Breaking Biology Technology: