Imagine you’re taking a refreshing night swim in the warm blue waters of Vieques in Puerto Rico. You splash into the surf and head out to some of the deeper waters of the bay, when what to your wondering eyes should appear, but blue streaks of light in water that once was clear. Do you need to get your eyes checked? Are you hallucinating? No! You’ve just happened upon a cluster of dinoflagellates, harmless bioluminescent microorganisms called plankton, that emit their glow when disturbed by movement. These dinoflagellates are known to inhabit waters throughout the world but are generally not present in large enough numbers to be noticed. There are only five ecosystems in the world where these special bioluminescent bays can be seen, and three of them are in Puerto Rico.
But you don’t have to travel to Puerto Rico or swim with plankton to see bioluminescence. There are bioluminescent organisms all over the world in many unexpected places. There are bioluminescent mushrooms, bioluminescent sea creatures—both large and small (squid, jellyfish, and shrimp, in addition to the dinoflagellates)—and bioluminescent insects, to name a few. Bioluminescence is simply the ability of living things to produce light.
It’s a question I’m asked probably once a week. “What wavelength do I select on my luminometer when performing a luciferase assay?” The question is a good and not altogether unexpected one, especially for those new to bioluminescent assays. The answer is that in most cases, you don’t and in fact shouldn’t select a wavelength (the exception to this rule is if you’re measuring light emitted in two simultaneous luciferase reactions). To understand why requires a bit of an explanation of absorbance, fluorescence, and luminescence assays, and the differences among them.
Absorbance, fluorescence, and luminescence assays are all means to quantify something of interest, be that a genetic reporter, cell viability, cytotoxicity, apoptosis, or other markers. In principle, they are all similar. For example, a genetic reporter assay is an indicator of gene expression. The promoter of a gene of interest can be cloned upstream of a reporter such as β-galactosidase, GFP, or firefly luciferase. The amount of each of these reporters that is transcribed into mRNA and translated into protein by the cell is indicative of the endogenous expression of the gene of interest.
Today’s blog was written by guest blogger Katarzyna Dubiel, marketing intern in Cellular Analysis and Proteomics. Last updated 02/12/2021
Reporter gene assays have been critical for the study of a wide-range of biological questions, from regulation of gene expression to cellular signaling. While reporter gene assays constitute a large group of technologies, here we highlight the diversity of new discoveries enabled by highly quantitative and easily measured bioluminescent luciferase-based reporter assays. Below are our top picks of exciting research discoveries involving the Dual-Luciferase Reporter Assay format using firefly and Renilla luciferases.
During my childhood, my family and I spent many a vacation in the Swiss Alps. From the mountain tops I used to look out into the horizon as far as the eye could see with peak upon peak stretching out into the distance. If I was lucky, I would have a map that allowed me to identify each peak, perhaps even distinguish the highest from the lowest and thus really get a sense that I understood the underlying topography. However, I quickly realized how little I actually knew about the vast, undulating Swiss countryside. What I had initially observed as a homogenous ‘mat’ of peaks stretching out into the horizon was in fact a rippling of deep valleys that would make an afternoon hike anything but a walk in the breeze.
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