Scientists Have Engineered A New 'Glowing' Protein

This new protein could provide a breakthrough in cancer-treating fluorescence microscopy.
Chris Young

A group of biophysicists from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT), with colleagues from France and Germany, have created a new 'glowing' fluorescent protein.

The researchers believe this new protein may have groundbreaking properties, allowing it to advance the research of infectious diseases, organ development, and cancer through the method of fluorescence microscopy.

The team published their findings in the journal Photochemical & Photobiological Sciences.


What is fluorescence microscopy?

Fluorescence microscopy uses induced luminescence to study live tissue. Some proteins emit a glow when exposed to laser radiation at a specific wavelength. These types of 'glowing' fluorescent protein can be analyzed via a special microscope.

Laboratory researchers attach light-emitting proteins to other proteins through genetic engineering. This allows specific molecules to be visible through the microscope so that their behavior can be methodically observed. 

What benefits does the new protein bring?

The problem with fluorescent microscopy has been that the proteins typically used in the process were vulnerable to heat, were too large (on the molecular level) and only emitted light when oxygen was present.

The protein created by these researchers, however, can glow with ultraviolet and blue light in the absence of oxygen, is small, and it has shown itself to be very stable under high temperatures.

Overcoming these limitations is great news for the advancement of research into malignant tumor genesis, cell signaling, and organ development.

A testament to the importance of fluorescent microscopy — and the benefits this new protein could bring — is the fact that the Nobel Prize in 2014 went to a team that pioneered the practice. 

How was this new protein created?

The MIPT team identified this special protein in the cells of a thermophilic bacterium. These bacteria are typically found in high-temperature environments, such as thermal vents and hot springs.

They, then, genetically engineered a DNA sequence that holds the same properties as the protein's fluorescent segment, while getting rid of properties that would have made the molecule larger.

The team of scientists introduced the gene that encodes the protein into Escherichia coli, another bacteria. This allowed for mass production of the 'glowing' fluorescent protein with its special and, hopefully, groundbreaking properties. 

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