Menu

Glowing Green Eel

The Japanese freshwater eel is the first vertebrate found to produce a fluorescent protein, which may prove useful in the clinic.

Jun 17, 2013
Chris Palmer

An unagi eel fluorescingIMAGE COURTESY OF RIKEN BRAIN SCIENCE INSTITUTEUnagi, the Japanese freshwater eel (Anguilla japonica), can be found on the menu of sushi bars around the world. A team of scientists studying the nutritional properties of this tasty sushi delicacy reported on Thursday (June 13) in Cell that they discovered a fluorescent protein produced by the eel’s muscle fibers. The researchers think the protein, which glows green when blue light is shone on it, may be involved in long distance swimming during its spawning migration from rivers to the sea. Dubbed UnaG, for unagi green protein, it is the first fluorescent protein found in a vertebrate species; most other known fluorescent proteins have come primarily from jellyfish, corals, and microbes.

“I don't think anyone would have thought that eels would have such a bright fluorescent protein,” Robert Campbell, a chemist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, told Nature. “It's totally different” from other fluorescent proteins, he added. “There's not anything you can point to that's the same.”

One unique feature that distinguishes UnaG from other fluorescent proteins is that it does not produce light with a chromophore within its protein structure. Instead, UnaG fluoresces only when bound with a naturally occurring small molecule found in the eel’s muscles called bilirubin. In humans, bilirubin is produced by the breakdown of haemoglobin. Too much bilirubin in the blood can be toxic. Hospitals test for bilirubin’s levels in the blood to assess liver function and diagnose diseases such as jaundice and anemia. The researchers have used UnaG’s fluorescent properties to design a more sensitive, accurate, and speedier assay for bilirubin levels.

Another unique aspect of UnaG is its capacity to fluoresce in low-oxygen environments, meaning it could be used as a marker for anaerobic regions in cancerous tumors.

“Before the discovery of UnaG, I couldn’t imagine that basic science could have such a direct impact on human health,” Atsushi Miyawaki, a molecular biologist at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan and senior author on the paper, said in a statement. “From a simple eel, we found a new path to the clinic.”

September 2018

The Muscle Issue

The dynamic tissue reveals its secrets

Marketplace

Sponsored Product Updates

StemExpress LeukopakâNow Available in Frozen Format

StemExpress LeukopakâNow Available in Frozen Format

StemExpress, a Folsom, California based leading supplier of human biospecimens, announces the release of frozen Peripheral Blood Leukopaks. Leukopaks provide an enriched source of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) with low granulocyte and red blood cells that can be used in a variety of downstream cell-based applications.

New Antifade Mounting Media from Vector Laboratories Enhances Immunofluorescence Applications

New Antifade Mounting Media from Vector Laboratories Enhances Immunofluorescence Applications

Vector Laboratories, a leader in the development and manufacture of labeling and detection reagents for biomedical research, introduces VECTASHIELD® Vibrance™ – antifade mounting media that delivers significant improvements to the immunofluorescence workflow.

Best Practices for Sample Preparation and Lipid Extraction from Various Samples

Best Practices for Sample Preparation and Lipid Extraction from Various Samples

Download this white paper from Bertin Technologies to learn how to extract and analyze lipid samples from various models!

Bio-Rad Launches CHT Ceramic Hydroxyapatite XT Media and Nuvia HP-Q Resin for Process Protein Purification

Bio-Rad Launches CHT Ceramic Hydroxyapatite XT Media and Nuvia HP-Q Resin for Process Protein Purification

Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc. (NYSE: BIO and BIOb), a global leader of life science research and clinical diagnostic products, today announced the launch of two new chromatography media for process protein purification: CHT Ceramic Hydroxyapatite XT Media and Nuvia HP-Q Resin.