Japanese team develops proteins that glow


A team of Japanese researchers has developed proteins that produce light visible to the naked eye, according to a paper published online Tuesday by the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The proteins, called “Nano-lanterns” and which release green, orange or light blue light depending on the type, could be used in medical research and as an alternative to electric lights, said the team of researchers from Osaka University and the government-affiliated Riken institute.

Currently, fluorescent proteins can be used for closely observing cells and tissue. But they glow only when exposed to external light stimuli, which tends to kill the cells under observation.

Meanwhile, conventional glowing proteins release only weak light that even supersensitive cameras need a long time to capture.

The team, including Osaka University professor Takeharu Nagai, developed the new proteins by combining glowing proteins of the Renilla reniformis, or sea pansies, with fluorescent proteins collected from jellyfish and corals.

When given a special chemical substance, the proteins produce light 20 times more powerful than that of conventional glowing proteins, according to the paper.

“In the future, we also hope to create street trees that glow so that we can save electricity,” said Nagai, vice director of the university’s Institute of Scientific and Industrial Research.