Jellyfish Offer Enlightment

Photo courtesy of Kat Hadjantonakis

Photo by Kat Hadjantonakis

What do jellyfish have to do with green mice you ask?  A species of jellyfish known as Aequorea victoria contains a protein in its body tissues called “green fluorescent protein,” or GFP.  As far back as 1962, scientists were able to isolate this protein from the jellyfish and recognize that it is activated by ultraviolet light.  Why is this protein significant?  Well, the fact that it can make mice and other creatures glow under UV light is a side note to its true importance in scientific research.  According to this recent article, scientists have earned the Nobel prize for determining how it works & for using it for lighting up brain cells.   “Glowing markers will show, for example, how brain cells develop or how cancer cells spread through tissue.”

I was really surprised to read that one of the most simple and hated creatures in the ocean has such great implications for science and science fiction.  It makes you realize that every organism in the ocean is probably very significant. I wonder if this technique will be used other than for medical purposes in the future.  Will they attempt a glowing human just because they can?

What purpose does the GFP serve for the jellyfish?  Is there any harm in using this protein in mammals?