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iLabs: The Answer to Brainbows and Their Colors

May 30, 2013

Earlier this month the Micro World Investigate Lab hosted a group from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers on a Saturday morning.  We did a class on Bioluminescence, Fluorescence, and the discovery of Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) by Nobel Prize Winner, Osamu Shimomura.

It was a great class, and we even had some GFP to “experiment with” courtesy of the NC State University’s BTEC ( Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center).  Everyone got to learn a bit about how the protein was discovered, how changing its pH affects whether the protein fluoresces or not, and how newer forms of the protein are used in cutting edge medical research.

One application is in brain research. Use of multi-colored fluorescent proteins allows scientists to visualize various brain cells and monitor their actions under different conditions. The technology has progressed so far that from a small group of 5 colors, researchers can now create a color palette of 90 shades, making such visualizations incredibly powerful.

A few of the people in the class were fascinated by these “Brainbows” and asked for further information on them. Well, here it is, better late than never!

First, the article, Over the Brainbow, gives a good summary of the topic, and how these colored proteins are made. Further information can be found in the articles, The Colors of the Brainbow: When Science Looks Like Art, and Colours Light Up Brain Structure.

Here is an NPR broadcast on this topic, featuring Jeff Lichtman, M.D., Ph.D., entitled: Diagrams of the Brain Paint a Colorful Brainbow.

Here are a few quick photos that show the artistic beauty in this scientific research.  Enjoy!

brainbow image, fluorescent protein tag

“The hippocampus of a human brain is illuminated with multiple fluorescent proteins. Boston scientist Osamu Shimomura won the Nobel Prize for his discovery of a light-emitting protein in jellyfish. Harvard neuroscientists are applying that finding to create “brainbows” for research. (Courtesy of Jeff Lichtman/Harvard University)”

WBUR via photopin cc

human brainstem is illuminated with multiple fluorescent proteins

“A human brainstem is illuminated with multiple fluorescent proteins. Boston scientist Osamu Shimomura won the Nobel Prize for his discovery of a light-emitting protein in jellyfish. Harvard neuroscientists are applying that finding to create “brainbows” for research. (Courtesy of Jeff Lichtman/Harvard University)”

WBUR via photopin cc

At left, parts of a motor neuron from a portion of oculomotor nerve in a 'brainbow'-mapped mouse. At right, neurons in the dentate gyrus, part of the hippocampus.

“These are images of a Brainbow. Read about it on NPR.

At left, parts of a motor neuron from a portion of oculomotor nerve, a nerve that controls eye movement, in a ‘brainbow’-mapped mouse. At right, neurons in the dentate gyrus, part of the hippocampus — a region of the brain that controls memory and spatial navigation.”

stararune1 via photopin cc

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