Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Worm Turns On

'New' luminescent proteins with biomedical utility created by combining natural and synthetic types

15 October 2019

Worm Turns On

To survive its first few days of life, the P. hirtus railroad worm must switch on natural lights. In tiny spots along its back an enzyme called luciferase sets to work on a chemical called luciferin, producing bright yellow-green luminescence to scare predators. But that’s not all – the worm carries a different form of luciferase which produces red 'head lights', helping the worm to see in the dark. Finding differences in the molecular structures producing these different colours, researchers seized an opportunity – combining natural luciferases with artificially altered luciferin molecules, produces a bright red light in the lab. Shining at the far-red end of the visible spectrum, this 'new' colour can be adapted to shine inside human cells – in tissues where yellow-green luminescence is too readily absorbed and lost – potentially revealing details about our circulatory system and muscles.

Written by John Ankers

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