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Single-cell biological lasers

Malte C. Gather & Seok Yun
Nature Photonics 5;  406–410 (2011)

 

Figure 1. Pulsed lasing image of GFP transfected human cell.
Figure 1. Pulsed lasing image of GFP transfected human cell.
Figure 2. Schematic of living cell laser. Microscope focuses the light onto the GFP transfected cell, which has been placed between two highly reflecting mirrors; d=20um.
Figure 2. Schematic of living cell laser. Microscope focuses the light onto the GFP transfected cell, which has been placed between two highly reflecting mirrors; d=20um.

In a new study published in Nature Photonics a single cell biological laser has been developed by using human embryonic kidney cells transfected with Green fluorescent protein (GFP) from the jellyfish, Aequorea victoria (Figure 1). The three basic components of a laser are:

  1. a lasing material (such as a crystal, gas, semiconductor, dye, etc.),
  2. a pump source (which adds energy to the lasing material, e.g. flash lamp, electrical current, radiation from a laser, etc.), and
  3. an optical cavity consisting of reflectors to act as the feedback mechanism for light amplification.

In this case, the lasing material comprises the overexpressed GFP molecule inside the cell matrix. The pump source was a pulsed blue laser and the optical cavity was a single cell placed between two highly reflecting mirrors spaced 20 um apart. The dimension of a single cell is also just less than 20 um in diameter (Figure 2).


The pumping source produces a population inversion in the gain medium where a majority of the molecules are in an excited state. When a photon of the appropriate wavelength interacts with such a system of molecules, stimulated emission occurs. When researchers hit the cell with low energy pulses of blue light using a microscope, typical diffuse ordinary fluorescence was observed. But after reaching a certain threshold of input energy (~0.9 nJ), the light output from the cell changed drastically and resulted in a bright, directional and narrowband emission of green light, which are the characteristics of a laser beam.


Certain regions of the cell showed intense lasing action (as shown in Figure 1) that occurred at different but close range of wavelengths (~514-519 nm). Researchers also reported that even after prolonged lasing action, the cell was still alive. The lasing action lasted for few nanoseconds and was easily detectable. The cell was able to lase about 100 pulses at excitation pulse energy of 50 nJ after which photobleaching occurred and depleted the GFP. An interesting aspect of the GFP infused cell is that the cell was able to heal itself and replenish the GFP with time.


The applications of this novel living laser are not immediately apparent. The authors have suggested that this type of cellular laser could be used to study activity inside the cells themselves. There may be some possible medical applications for imaging or to treat disease. The lasing material is not limited to the Green Fluorescent Protein. Modified forms of GFP should be readily amenable to this application as well as other fluorophores. In this way, the output wavelength of the cell can be varied to match a
particular application.

 

Selected GFP proteins and antibodies

Catalog #

Product Name

G8965-01E Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) Pab Gt x
G8965-05 Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) Pab Gt x
G8965-05A Green fluorescent protein, aa1-238, Recombinant, Aequorea victoria
G8965-06 Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) Pab Ch x
G8965-07 Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) Mab Mo x
G8965-08 Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) Mab Mo x
G8965-09 Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) Pab Ch x
G8965-10 Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) Pab Rb x
G8965-10A Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) Pab Rb x
G8965-10B Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) Pab Rb x
G8965-10E Green Fluorescent Protein, Recombinant (GFP) 
G8965-10G Green Fluorescent Protein, Recombinant (GFP) 
G8965-12 GFP (Green Fluorescent Protein) Pab Rb x
G8965-12A Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) (FITC) Pab Gt x
G8965-14B Green Fluorescent Protein, Enhanced (Aequorea Victoria) (GFP)  
G8965-15 Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) (Biotin) Mab Mo x
G8965-20 Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) (HRP) Mab Mo x
G8965-20A Green Fluorescent Protein (HRP) (GFP) Pab Gt x
G8966 Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP), X-Adsorbed (Biotin) Pab Gt x
G8966-05 Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP), X-Adsorbed (HRP) Pab Gt x

 

Other fluorescent proteins and antibodies

Catalog #

Product Name

B2174-90 Blue Fluorescent Protein, Recombinant (BFP) 
C8385-01 Cyan Fluorescent Protein (CFP) Pab Rb x
C8385-01A Cyan Fluorescent Protein, Recombinant (CFP) 
E2213-98A EGFP, Recombinant (Enhanced Green Fluorescent Protein) 
M2690-20 mCherry Fluorescent Protein, Recombinant 
R1310-01 Red Fluorescent Protein (RFP) Pab Ch x
R1310-01A Red Fluorescent Protein (RFP) Mab Mo x
R1310-01B Red Fluorescent Protein (dsRed) 
R1310-02 Red Fluorescent Protein (RFP) Pab Rb x
Y2043 Yellow Fluorescent Protein Tag (YFP) 
Y2043-01 Yellow Fluorescent Protein (YFP)