Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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That Inner Glow

Genetically engineering plants to glow – implications for biological imaging

27 July 2020

That Inner Glow

What happens inside plant cells? How can we see proteins that aren’t visible with a microscope? Since the discovery of a green fluorescent protein (GFP) allowing jellyfish to glow, biology has been revolutionised. Recently, scientists have engineered the genes of tobacco plants to express bioluminescent pathways usually found in fungi. The key metabolic pathway that allows fungi to light up is called the caffeic acid cycle. With collaborators, researchers at the MRC LMS modified tobacco plant DNA to incorporate the genes that allow fungi to produce caffeic acid. Enzymes within the plant enable the fungal caffeic acid to be converted into another molecule, luciferin, which allows the tobacco plant to glow continuously (pictured). The tobacco plant flowers glowed the most and the younger plants were brighter than older plants. This novel research will provide scientists with a new technique to observe and monitor molecular events occurring in plants as well as other organisms.

Read more about this MRC LMS collaboration here

Written by Lauren Green

Research published in Nature Biotechnology, April 2020

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