Green Glowing Things

22 May
You might have seen them in the news, along with the strange pictures.  Tales of Mr GreenGenes or glowing green mice.  It seems both frivolous and a little scary.  Why spend the time and resources making things glow green under ultraviolet light?
Green Flourescent Protein or GFP is used as a marker to detect for successful transfer of genetic material.  You attach the gene that makes GFP to the genetic sequence you are inserting into your subject.  After allowing your test organism time to begin to express the new sequence you added, you put the organism under florescent light and if it glows green you know it was a successful splice.  You can analyze the amount of the emissions or the total number of cells that glow to estimate success.
GFP is a real boon.  The genetic sequence that programs cells to make gfp is always turned on.  It is non toxic, for the most part, and requires only oxygen to begin expression.  In addition, the presence of GFP does not influence the expression of the protein sequence it is attached to.  The sequence has also been altered to allow for different colors as well.  Enough so that pictures like the on the right can be made from bacteria expressing the different version of gfp.  Basically, GFP is the perfect marker.

Since it does not inhibit or influence proteins when it is expressed with them, it can be used to monitor the function and flow of proteins within an organism,  Even while the cell is alive!  Before all the research with GFP, it was much harder to determine how proteins were used by cells. There is only so much information you can glean by putting something in a blender and measuring the amounts of what it is you are looking for.  So GFP allows scientist to watch how cells actually function.

So why the glowing cats and mice and other glowing things that really make the news?  Well, one reason is to show that we can and show that GFP functions inside a living organism.  Some of those glowing creatures were made glowing after they were already born, so they showed that organisms can have their genetic material changed without adverse effects.  Plus, making headlines is a good way to get people’s attention, including the attention of people who give money to science.

Research is expensive and genetic research can be hard to find funding for.  It tends to take a long time and the results are guaranteed.  Plus, lots of people, even die hard experimentalists like me can get a little squicked out by some of the possibilities. After all, I am not sure I want to have even a benign genetic sequence from a jellyfish attached to some of my DNA.


One Response to “Green Glowing Things”

  1. Verdus May 23, 2011 at 12:12 pm #

    Wow, that’s pretty neat. A little crazy/creepy, but I can definitely see the benefits when you describe them that way.

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