Magazine article Science News

Beetlejuice Genes Now in Biotechnicolor

Magazine article Science News

Beetlejuice Genes Now in Biotechnicolor

Article excerpt

Beetlejuice genes now in biotechnicolor

"Beetlejuice" may be passe by Hollywood standards; the popular comedy film has been gone from theaters for months. But Beetlejuice II is coming soon -- not to local theaters this time, but to a biotechnology lab near you.

Researchers working with Caribbean click beetles have isolated the genes coding for bioluminescence from the juices of these glow-in-the-dark bugs. Having inserted this DNA into bacteria, they have developed a multicolored system of "reporter genes" they say will allow scientists to measure simultaneously the activity of several otherwise invisible, spliced genes in cell cultures. Until now, reporter gene systems -- which indicate when a gene is turned on -- have necessitated much more complicated procedures and could only track one spliced gene at a time.

Keith V. Wood and William D. McElroy of the University of California, San Diego, and their colleagues started with the Jamaican click beetle, Pyrophorus plagiophthalamus, a distant relative of the firefly. Like fireflies (which are beetles, not flies), click beetles contain light-generating organs in their abdomens. But unlike fireflies, click beetles glow in a variety of colors.

All bioluminescent beetles, including fireflies, produce colored light by enzymatically cleaving molecules of an identical protein substrate, called luciferin. Different enzymes, known collectively as luciferases, cut luciferin in different places, producing various colors of light. Wood and his co-workers cloned the genes for four click-beetle luciferases and inserted them into the common intestinal bacteria Escherichia coli. …

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