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Glow-in-the-Dark Bunny Sheds Light on Genetic Research

By Jessica Clark

(Britannica.com) -- A project by Illinois artist Eduardo Kac has brought a common genetic research technique into the realms of art and ethics. The piece, titled "GFP Bunny," centers around Alba, a white rabbit that glows green when placed under a black light.

To create the effect, Kac had scientists from France's National Institute of Agronomic Research inject genes derived from the bioluminescent jellyfish Aequorea victoria into a fertilized rabbit egg. Kac intended to bring Alba home to live with him to demonstrate that genetic hybrids aren't monsters, but the researchers are keeping her for now, disturbed by the protests of animal-rights activists.

The concept behind this luminescent rabbit is nothing new to the biological research community, which has been using hybrids of the green fluorescent protein (GFP) cloned from the jellyfish for several years. These complex molecules, enhanced to increase their glowing properties, can serve as flexible markers to help genetic engineers observe real-time processes in living tissue.

The sequence that makes up GFP may be introduced into an entire developing organism, such as a rabbit or a plant; into a particular strain of cells, such as an active cancer; or into a bacteria, such as salmonella. The glow of GFP-laden tissues can be seen under a microscope's ultraviolet rays, and black lights can be used to examine the progress of a protein through transparent living organisms like zebrafish.

Variants of GFP that produce cyan, blue, and yellow fluorescence have been developed so that researchers can monitor different proteins simultaneously. 

Sept. 27, 2000 / Sources: EncyclopÊdia Britannica, Chicago Tribune, ABCNews.com, National Science Foundation, Clontech.com




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