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A Jelly and the Nobel Prize


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Posted by Merry on July 06, 2012 at 15:38:38:

When I photographed this 'Crystal Jelly', Aequorea victoria, I had no idea that it was a celebrity among the hydromedusa.

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Looking at the underside, you can see a rib-like pattern formed by the gonads, which are attached to the radial canals. In the center are the frilly lips of the mouth.

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A closer look at the bell margin reveals pale green photoreceptors, which contain the substance that revolutionized biotechnology: green fluorescent protein or GFP.

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Coupled with and activated by another protein, GFP emits green bioluminescence in a narrow ring around the umbrella. The luminescence can only be seen under ultraviolet light. Here’s a cool image of the jelly as the light source changes:
Aequorea GFP

It was from these photoorgans that GFP was first isolated by Osamu Shimomura in 1962. Shimomura

Thirty years later, the gene was cloned and an avalanche of studies began with fluorescent proteins, plumbing their use as fluorescent labels in living systems. Used by countless medical and scientific research laboratories throughout the world, the applications of GFP and related fluorescent proteins are infinite.
• GFP can be used to map neural circuits of the brain, to determine the causes of neurodegenerative diseases
• visualize specific tissues in embryonic and tumor development
• study protein manufacture, location, turnover, and “aging”
• used as a reporter gene to monitor gene expression

In 2008, Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie and Roger Tsien shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their collective work on GFP. Pretty exciting stuff coming from a 3-inch jelly.

But why the ring of light on Aequorea? The ocean is chock-full of creatures that produce bioluminescence, some in spectacular displays. Luminescence may be utilized in attracting prey, avoiding predators, camouflage, and communication - all have been implicated.

A few of the most recent drifters we encountered:

Tiny barnacles on the bell of Aequorea
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Cyclosalpa bakeri
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Pyrosoma atlanticum
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Mitrocoma cellularia
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Sea gooseberry with its burden of amphipods
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