PerspectiveIMAGING

Unnaturally aglow with a bright inner light

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Science  23 Feb 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6378, pp. 868-869
DOI: 10.1126/science.aas9159

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Summary

Bioluminescent insects, fungi, and sea creatures must have seemed mysterious and supernatural to the people of antiquity. It was not until the late 19th century that science began to displace the magic by demonstrating that bioluminescence in insects, such as the firefly (Photinus pyralis), is a chemical reaction that requires a protein (a luciferase) and substrates [adenosine triphosphate (ATP), O2, and a luciferin, d-luciferin] (1). Understanding of the biochemical mechanisms of bioluminescence has grown over the past century, as has appreciation of its widespread prevalence in nature. Since cloning the gene for firefly luciferase (2), researchers have sought to exploit this molecular lightbulb for bioanalysis applications and bioluminescence imaging (BLI) in model animals (3). On page 935 of this issue, Iwano et al. (4) report the development of a luciferase-luciferin pair that, due to its brightness and red-colored glow, opens the door to a range of biomedical applications, such as detection of single cells deep within tissue, that were not previously feasible with BLI.