Jellyfish and Biotechnology

Wed, Oct 28th 2009, 12:37

Jellyfish have provided Biotechnology with an invaluable tool for studying biological processes that were previously invisible.

Jellyfish and Biotechnology first became synonymous when 80-year old Osamu Shimomura won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for successfully extracting proteins from jellyfish that cause bioluminescence. These fluorescent proteins that exist in many species of jellyfish are what give the jellyfish their florescent glow. It is this property that has revolutionised Science.

Scientists managed to clone the gene for green fluorescent protein. This has become an essential tool for many biotechnology studies and "glowing protein" is now used in laboratories all over the world. When the fluorescent protein is injected into cells or organisms, the luminescence is visible. This provides an invaluable marker for scientists to observe the behaviour of the cell or organism. In this way for example, Biotechnology has been able to track the way cancer cells grow and spread.

University of Buffalo Scientists inserted the protein into the genes of the African Butterfly. The butterflies that resulted have distinctive green glowing eyes. These scientists are observing the behaviour of the butterfly genes, visible with the glowing marker, to better understand how genes control development and how those controls evolve.

Another jellyfish protein, aequorin, has neuroprotective properties. Biotechnologists are hoping to find the key to using it to treat neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease.

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