Putting Jellyfish Proteins in Human Cells Makes Lasers


Two Harvard grads put phosphorescent proteins in human cells and focused the light into a laser strong enough for the naked eye to view.

In the past, physicists have made lasers using cold lifeless metal and poisonous chemicals. Two Harvard researchers have turned that presumption on its heel by using a completely biological source of light, and hosting that light source within a human cell. The process still calls for the use of two very tiny mirrors to focus the light, but Malte C. Gather and Seok Hyun Yun from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston see the potential for some interesting applications of the new technology.

“Since their invention some 50 years ago, lasers have made a tremendous impact on modern science and technology. Nevertheless, lasing has so far relied on artificial or engineered optical gain materials,” Yun and Gatehr wrote in their paper.

“This is the first time that we have used biological materials to build a laser and generate light from something that is living.”

The pair induced a human kidney cell to produce enhanced green fluorescent protein used by jellyfish to illuminate in the water. The kidney cell, positioned between two mirrors 20 millimeters across, was then hit with a cool blue light. The mirrors focused the light produced by the cell, resulting in a clear green laser bright enough to see without assistance.

The best part? The human cell wasn’t harmed at all during the process.

The applications for such a technique are mostly medical. “By analysing the pattern [of light emitted], you can get some idea of what is happening inside the cell,” Yun said. In addition, if the team could get the lasers powerful enough, doctors might be able to use a patient’s own cells to create lasers for operating within the human body.

That sounds all well and good, but call me when a human cell can make a laser that vaporize a human target from space … or a huge Jiffy Pop.


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