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Single living cell produces laser light

Nature Photonics has an interesting story online which details that the first single living cell has been able to produce laser light. Malte Gather and Seok Hyun Yun from the Wellman Center for Photomedicine at Massachusetts General Hospital has the scientific world buzzing.

The scientists have been able to engineer the cell into producing a light emitting protein that was gathered from a glowing jellyfish. Flooding the resulting cells with weak blue light causes them to emit directed green laser light according to the reports. There is a lot of potential for this discovery in the scientific world, such as for light based therapies and microscope imaging.

Laser light is not identical to normal light, because it is a narrow band of colours with the light waves all oscillating together. Lasers are used daily, from shopping scanners to DVD and BluRay players.

Single cell lasers, 20 millionths of a metre wide

This new work however by Malte Gather and Seok Hyun Yun is the first time laser light has been emitted from a living cell. They used green fluorescent protein as the laser’s gain medium, where light amplification initiates.

GFP has been much researched over the years and is isolated from a jellyfish. It is important in biology as it can operate as a custom made light source inside living systems.

The scientists claim that the living system is a ‘self healing laser’ because if the light emitting proteins get destroyed the cell will produce more to compensate.

They added “In cellular sensing, we may be able to detect intracellular processes with unprecedented sensitivity. For light-based therapeutics, diagnosis and imaging, people think about how to deliver emission from an external laser source deep into tissue. Now we can approach this problem in another way: by amplifying light in the tissue (itself).”

KitGuru says: A breakthrough for the future.

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