In the News

Bright future — Rapid advances in fluorescent tools promise to illuminate the details of protein expression, activity, and function


April 14, 2006

An interdisciplinary team of biological imaging experts from the University of California San Diego (National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research, Pharmacology Dept., Chemistry and Biochemistry Dept., and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute) recently contrasted the characteristic benefits and limitations of many new classes of fluorescent probes for studying proteins. Sharing the perspective that major advances in the life sciences are strongly tied to the ability to directly observe dynamic processes in living systems, and to localize the responsible molecular machinery in situ by electron microscopy, they published a review of relevant fluorescent imaging technologies in the 14-April-2006 issue of Science 312(5771) 217-24.

For two decades it was common for life scientists to browse their favorite journal and discover a report detailing the use of fluorescently tagged antibodies to localize surface proteins. Today, when you thumb through any number of journals, you’re likely to behold color-rich photomicrographs depicting the expression of a specific gene or the redistribution of protein within a living cell or a growing number of other dynamic biochemical processes. Progress in developing new fluorescent probes over the last decade has been dramatic--whole new classes of fluorescent dyes, autofluorescent proteins, and other hybrid probes are being engineered to illuminate specific biochemical structures and processes within living cells and to also make possible the direct correlated imaging of the underlying molecular complexes at higher resolution by electron microscopy.

Fluorescence imaging is rapidly becoming a biochemist’s tool of choice for studying processes within living cells. Its rapid expansion is partially tied to a synergy of developments, including the increasing ease of implementing innovative targeting strategies to key cell metabolites and structures. Concomitant advances in instrumentation and data analysis are enabling scientists to identify and quantify dynamic biochemical processes of living cells under light and electron microscopes. Fluorescence techniques are being adapted for clinical and biochemical assays like biopsies and high-throughput drug screening, and are just beginning to find wider application in functional assays of living cells and animals).

Work by the authors directly related to this review was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Ben Giepmans, Stephen Adams, Mark Ellisman, Roger Tsien (2006) The Fluorescent Toolbox for Assessing Protein Location and Function. Science 312(5771) 217 – 224