Thursday, April 3, 2008

Glowing Tobacco Plants

Recent advances in technology have allowed scientists at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) to create a tobacco plant that glows like a firefly. The scientists used the gene responsible for the glow in fireflies and have created from it a glowing genetic tag. Until this recent advance in technology in marking and monitoring gene activity scientists have had to use radioactivity which is a dangerous, costly and time consuming procedure. The new procedure which these scientists have developed is between 100 and 1000 times more sensitive than previous methods at detecting gene expression.

The reason that they can get a tobacco plant to glow like a firefly is because these to organisms have a very closely related genome. The essential part of this procedure is the enzyme luciferase which in fireflies catalyzes a chemical reaction between luciferin a small organic molecule that is present in the firefly and adenosine triphosphate (ATP). When all three of these molecules are present a chemical reaction occurs between luciferin and ATP which emits light.
Two years ago the team at UCSD successful isolated the gene that controls luciferase and transplanted it into bacteria. Last year the scientists successfully reported that they had transplanted the gene into the genes of the tobacco plant so that it was expressed. They now successfully grow genetically modified tobacco plants that emit light and glow when the plant comes in contact with luciferin.

This research in identifying genes that are being expressed is one of the keys steps to answer the nagging question of all biologists why every cell has every gene but only expresses a few of them to create a liver cell or a heart cell. The research has been continuing and the scientists have successfully made monkey cells produce luciferase. No this doesn’t mean that were going to see glowing monkeys in our zoos or possibly have glowing cats and dogs as pets. Though thinking about having a glowing dog would be pretty cool!!
Science News. Sept 27, 1986. 13 Mar. 2008.
Created by Joel Goode (41720758)