Fluorescent protein taken from a jellyfish DNA and injected into a rabbit’s embryos has produced a litter with several glow-in-the-dark bunnies. Although to many, this may seem like science fiction, to researchers, scientists and physicians this means more effective medicines and cures for diseases like hemophilia, Alzheimer’s, and cancers such as mesothelioma, may be on the horizon.
According to a press release, a team of researchers from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and the University of Istanbul in Turkey used transgenesis to take a genetic marker from one animal and introduce it into another that did not originally have the gene – in this case, from the jellyfish to the rabbit. Although two of the newborn bunnies were left with an eerie glow when seen under black lights, they are otherwise perfectly healthy and are expected to lead full rabbit lives.
Now, the researchers are awaiting the birth of glowing lambs anticipated to be born in November. The same experiment was conducted in the larger mammal to forward the process towards work with humans.
Unfortunately, this type of work is controversial in the United States, and the experiments are being conducted in Turkey. In an interview with KHON2 of Hawaii, Dr. Stefan Moisyadi, lead researcher from UH, said, “At home, there is this hysteria that transgenic animals should not be used for anything.” But he adds, “The benefits in doing it [the experiments] in large animals is to create bio-reactors that basically produce pharmaceuticals that can be made a lot cheaper.”
Gene therapy has been touted as the “new frontier” in medicine and is offering hope to patients and doctors alike that once untreatable diseases, including mesothelioma, may now be cured. The cost, however, is often extremely high. Dr. Moisyadi told Independent.co.uk, “we can make those enzymes a lot cheaper in animals with barrier reactives rather than a factory that will cost billions of dollars to build.”
Tracking Asbestos and Other Environmental Pollutants
Mesothelioma is just one of the diseases that is caused by exposure to environmental pollutants. The National Cancer Institute explains that when asbestos fibers are breathed in, they may get trapped in the lungs and remain there for a long time. Over time, these fibers can accumulate and cause scarring and inflammation, which can affect breathing and lead to serious health problems. Mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis are all associated with asbestos exposure.
The research with glowing animals can also be used to help track pollutants as they travel through the body. Researchers from the University of Tennessee have developed transgenic bioluminescent zebrafish that were engineered exclusively to emit a glow when elevated levels of ammonia or nitrate are present in the aquarium and enter the fishes’ bodies. These “environmental reporters” can lead the way to produce other processes that can detect a large number of chemicals or toxins, potentially screening processes.
While all of this research still requires many more years of studies and work in the labs, genetic research appears to be pointing to many promising breakthroughs in the medical field.
About the Researchers
UH Emeritus Professor Ryuzo Yanagimachi who is the founder of the UH Manoa Institute for Biogenesis Research helped set up the initial experiment with the Turkish researchers. Yanagimachi, according to UH, is “recognized around the world as the scientist whose early work with animals laid the foundation for the development of in vitro fertilization in humans.” He also invented the now common technique used in fertility clinics for inserting sperm into an egg. Dr. Stefan Moisyadi, associate professor, then took over the experiment and is the lead researcher on the project.
- University of Hawaii at Manoa
- KHON2 of Hawaii