Scientists are a step closer to understanding the mechanism behind the mysterious fluorescent light naturally produced by certain animals, a skill that may be useful in the field of biotechnology, according to a new study.
In the study published in Scientific Reports, researchers from the University of California, San Diego describe lancelets, marine invertebrates also known as “amphioxus” that are capable of producing a natural fluorescent glow. The fish-shaped animal possesses green fluorescent proteins (GFPs) that allow them to emit both very bright and much dimmer versions of the light – a rare capability in the animal kingdom.
Fluorescence is the process of blue “excitation” light into green “emission” light, and though the exact mechanism that controls this ability remains unknown, this study, researchers say, opens the door towards its understanding.
Lead author Dimitri Deheyn and his colleagues looked into the structural differences of the GFPs, and found that some variations exist at the nanoscale level that allows the sea creature to emit different brightness levels. These differences lie in the stiffness around the animal’s “chromophore pocket,” the area of proteins responsible for molecular transformation of light, and thus the different light intensities.
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