‘Weird’ Glowing Protein Offers Unique Way To Fight Cancer, Infections

Researchers from Russia, Germany and France found a new and unique way to fight cancer and infectious diseases. The team created a new fluorescent protein that glows and can be used to observe the body to see the effects of treatments.  

Led by biophysicists from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, the researchers explored fluorescence microscopy, which experts typically use in observing living tissue through induced luminescence. They found that some proteins emit light at a different wavelength when exposed to laser radiation and could remain stable under high temperatures. 

The team published a report of their work in the journal Photochemical and Photobiological Sciences.

To date, existing techniques that use fluorescent proteins are known to have several flaws. Most commonly used proteins are vulnerable to heat, bulky and usually glow only in the presence of oxygen.

But the researchers of the latest study were able to create a glowing protein that works even without oxygen. 

"For one thing, our protein is more thermostable than its analogues: It only denaturates at 68 degrees Celsius," Vera Nazarenko, study lead author from the MIPT Laboratory of Structural Analysis and Engineering of Membrane Systems, said in a statement. "It is also miniature, while most of the currently used fluorescent proteins are rather bulky. On top of that, it can emit light in the absence of oxygen."

Nazarenko’s team used the proteins found from the cells of thermophilic bacteria that lives in high-temperature environments, like hot springs. They genetically engineered its DNA sequence to produce the protein's fluorescent segment while maintaining the original size of its properties. 

The researchers then encoded the protein into the cells of another bacteria, called Escherichia coli. This final step allowed the team to create a factory of mass-producing glowing protein. 

The technique is expected to enable scientists to obtain data on cell life and death. Some of its applications include studying how malignant tumor develops as well as organ development.

One of the major achievements made in the study was to retain small proteins. Previous fluorescence microscopy techniques used proteins that were bulky and thermally unstable.

Glowing Protein Petri dish with bacteria genetically modified to produce a fluorescent protein. The glowing symbol is a logo of the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. Vera Nazarenko et al.