Aequorea victoria and the Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP)
Aequorea victoria, also called the crystal jelly, is a bioluminescent hydrozoan jellyfish that is found off the west coast of North America. This jellyfish is capable of producing flashes of blue light by a quick release of calcium (Ca2+) which interacts with the photoprotein aequorin. The blue light produced is in turn transduced to green by the now famous green fluorescent protein (GFP). In 1961, Osamu Shimomura and Johnson isolated the protein aequorin, and its small molecule cofactor, coelenterazine, from large numbers of Aequorea jellyfish at Friday Harbour Laboratories. They discovered, after initially finding bright luminescence on adding seawater to a purified sample, that calcium ions (Ca2+) were required to trigger bioluminescene.
This research also marked the beginning of research into green fluorescent protein. In 1967, Ridgeway and Ashley microinjected aequorin into single muscle fibres of barnacles, and observed transient calcium ion-dependent signals during muscle contraction. For his research into GFP, Osamu Shimomura was awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize for chemistry, together with Martin Chalfie and Roger Tsien.
An example of just how important the potential of GFP’s is found in the recent work of Jeff Litchman and Joshua Sanes, researchers at the Harvard Brain Center. They have created transgenic mice with fluorescent multicoloured neurons. The photos above of the mouse brain appeared in the November 2007 issue of Nature. But it is not their colourful splendour that makes these genetically modified mice so amazing. It is their potential to revolutionise neurobiology that has scientists across the globe so excited. Using individual colours derived from GFP’s, researchers will now be able to map the neural circuit of the brain. By creating a wire diagram, researchers hope to identify “defective” wiring found in the neurodegenerative diseases such as Althzeimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
For me, this type of work just sums up what amazing things can be achieved through the study of life in the oceans. All this current research and the potential of GFP’s in the future were obtained by through the study of bioluminescence in a jellyfish. As you can see, the implications are enormous, for me it reinforces why this fragile ecosystem needs to be protected.
You can view the full Nobel Prize winning research paper here:
And for more information on the current work on GFP’s, please visit this site: