Harvard gets us closer to having sharks with frickin' laser beams embedded in their heads

Wired reports Harvard researchers have managed to create "living lasers" out of human embryonic kidney cells re-engineered to create a protein used by jellyfish to create light:

When the team ran pulses of blue light through the kidney/jellyfish combo, a visible laser beam shot out. It only lasted for a few nanoseconds, but the light could be easily detected and carried useful information on the properties of the cell. The cell also left the experiment unharmed.



Free tagging: 


On top of that

If the information contained in the laser pulse about the conditions internal to these cells is analyzed, we'll learn more about what's going on within cells. We clearly don't know enough about many cancers to just go out and stop them tomorrow (or, duh, we would). The information we learn from these experiments may illuminate (if you'll allow the pun) something new that we can then exploit to stop types of untreatable cancers.

Or, Haviland, did you just expect us to "cure cancer" by stupid luck?


Because, you know, God forbid that scientists should waste their time trying to uncover the fundamental nature of things when they could be doing something more useful with all that fancy knowledge, like fixing broken TV sets or something

Some cancers are sensitive to

Some cancers are sensitive to light. So imagine infusing these laser cells and then turning them on: Cancer gets blasted from the inside.

I'm not sure if that's what is intended in this case. In fact, I'm not sure exactly what they'll be doing with this. The cells are not lasers in themselves - they had to be stuck between two mirrors to function as a laser. So this was a lab trick - not something you'd do within an active tumor. No doubt, they'll find some use.

In any case, green fluorescent protein - GFP - is commonly used in molecular biology as a signal. You can add GFP and then use it as in indicator for biological functions. So if you want to know when and where a gene gets turned on in an embryo, you just add GFP and shine a light on it. If you get green light from the spinal cord during the fifth week of development, you know when and where that gene is active.

To add onto this, and relate

To add onto this, and relate it to Kaz above, the laser coming out seems to be dependent on the internals of the cell in some way. How to solve the relationship is not known, but hopefully someone will figure it out. And once they do, maybe the locations of those proteins that have GFP labels can be solved, so you can have a 3D map of where these proteins are located inside the cell. Pretty awesome.

The only reason this made it into the popular press is that it is being presented as a living laser, but this could have some interesting applications if the equations relating the pulse to the structure of the cell can be solved.

What would be even cooler is a multi-color version, similar to multi-color flow cytometry, but with location information as well. That would be beautiful.