Fri 25 Apr 2014
Pedestrians in Edinburgh, Scotland, have been treated to a springtime display of giant photos of “glowing” or bioluminescent animals, including images of the jellyfish Aequorea aequorea captured by MBL Distinguished Scientist and 2008 Nobel Laureate Osamu Shimomura (panel behind girl on bike).
The display, called “Living Lights,” was part of the 2014 Edinburgh International Science Festival and this week is moving to another venue in Edinburgh, Our Dynamic Earth, where it will remain through October.
Shimomura took these photos of Aequorea in 1961, when he was a young chemist at Princeton University asking, “What makes the jellyfish glow?” He captured thousands of jellyfish from the waters off Friday Harbor, Washington, and painstakingly searched for their bioluminescence molecule. The two photos on top (below) and at the one at bottom left he took in daylight, shooting directly into the clear Friday Harbor water, using a Nikon F camera and 50 mm lens. Shimomura brought one jellyfish into a darkroom and exposed it to fresh water to trigger its luminescence, allowing him to capture the phenomena on camera (bottom right).
Shimomura did find and isolate the jellyfish’s bioluminescence protein—which he called “aequorin” –that year, and in the process he also discovered a fluorescent jellyfish protein that he called “green protein.”
Years later, in 1994, Martin Chalfie of Columbia University discovered that the jellyfish’s green fluorescent protein (GFP) could be an extremely useful tool for lighting up microscopic cells and their parts for study. GFP and other fluorescent proteins are now used in biomedical research worldwide, and they have been crucial in illuminating many processes that were previously invisible, such as the development of nerve cells or the spread of cancer. Shimomura, Chalfie, and Roger Tsien of University of California, San Diego, were awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their contributions to GFP’s discovery and applications.