It may look like ice cream sprinkles. But what you see here is actually scales from a zebrafish. Scientists genetically engineered the fish to make its upper layer of scales, the skin, fluoresce like a rainbow under UV light. To create this ‘skinbow’, they injected a gene into zebrafish embryos that produces coloured proteins. The gene randomly produces either blue, green or red proteins. Each gene can only produce proteins of one colour, but each cell has around 100 copies of the gene, so has many possible combinations of the coloured proteins. These combinations make each cell fluoresce with a slightly different shade. The scientists used these shades like barcodes to identify individual cells and track their movements in real time. When they exfoliated a zebrafish’s skin, they saw nearby skin cells expand to cover the damage. This research aims to understand more about how skin regenerates.
Written by Deborah Oakley
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