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Concept: Fluorescence


Fluorescence using ultraviolet (UV) light has seen increased use as a tool in paleontology over the last decade. Laser-stimulated fluorescence (LSF) is a next generation technique that is emerging as a way to fluoresce paleontological specimens that remain dark under typical UV. A laser’s ability to concentrate very high flux rates both at the macroscopic and microscopic levels results in specimens fluorescing in ways a standard UV bulb cannot induce. Presented here are five paleontological case histories that illustrate the technique across a broad range of specimens and scales. Novel uses such as back-lighting opaque specimens to reveal detail and detection of specimens completely obscured by matrix are highlighted in these examples. The recent cost reductions in medium-power short wavelength lasers and use of standard photographic filters has now made this technique widely accessible to researchers. This technology has the potential to automate multiple aspects of paleontology, including preparation and sorting of microfossils. This represents a highly cost-effective way to address paleontology’s preparatory bottleneck.

Concepts: Fluorescence, Ultraviolet, Biology, Light, Electromagnetic radiation, Laser, Fluorescent lamp, Black light


Cyan variants of green fluorescent protein are widely used as donors in Förster resonance energy transfer experiments. The popular, but modestly bright, Enhanced Cyan Fluorescent Protein (ECFP) was sequentially improved into the brighter variants Super Cyan Fluorescent Protein 3A (SCFP3A) and mTurquoise, the latter exhibiting a high-fluorescence quantum yield and a long mono-exponential fluorescence lifetime. Here we combine X-ray crystallography and excited-state calculations to rationalize these stepwise improvements. The enhancement originates from stabilization of the seventh β-strand and the strengthening of the sole chromophore-stabilizing hydrogen bond. The structural analysis highlighted one suboptimal internal residue, which was subjected to saturation mutagenesis combined with fluorescence lifetime-based screening. This resulted in mTurquoise2, a brighter variant with faster maturation, high photostability, longer mono-exponential lifetime and the highest quantum yield measured for a monomeric fluorescent protein. Together, these properties make mTurquoise2 the preferable cyan variant of green fluorescent protein for long-term imaging and as donor for Förster resonance energy transfer to a yellow fluorescent protein.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Fluorescence, Oxygen, Green fluorescent protein, X-ray crystallography, Linus Pauling, Yellow fluorescent protein


Fluorescence is widespread in marine organisms but uncommon in terrestrial tetrapods. We here show that many chameleon species have bony tubercles protruding from the skull that are visible through their scales, and fluoresce under UV light. Tubercles arising from bones of the skull displace all dermal layers other than a thin, transparent layer of epidermis, creating a ‘window’ onto the bone. In the genus Calumma, the number of these tubercles is sexually dimorphic in most species, suggesting a signalling role, and also strongly reflects species groups, indicating systematic value of these features. Co-option of the known fluorescent properties of bone has never before been shown, yet it is widespread in the chameleons of Madagascar and some African chameleon genera, particularly in those genera living in forested, humid habitats known to have a higher relative component of ambient UV light. The fluorescence emits with a maximum at around 430 nm in blue colour which contrasts well to the green and brown background reflectance of forest habitats. This discovery opens new avenues in the study of signalling among chameleons and sexual selection factors driving ornamentation.

Concepts: Fluorescence, Ultraviolet, Organism, Species, Skull, Fluorescent lamp, Genus, Chameleon


BACKGROUND: Successful delivery of compounds to the brain and retina is a challenge in the development of therapeutic drugs and imaging agents. This challenge arises because internalization of compounds into the brain and retina is restricted by the blood–brain barrier (BBB) and blood-retinal barrier (BRB), respectively. Simple and reliable in vivo assays are necessary to identify compounds that can easily cross the BBB and BRB. METHODS: We developed six fluorescent indoline derivatives (IDs) and examined their ability to cross the BBB and BRB in zebrafish by in vivo fluorescence imaging. These fluorescent IDs were administered to live zebrafish by immersing the zebrafish larvae at 7–8 days post fertilization in medium containing the ID, or by intracardiac injection. We also examined the effect of multidrug resistance proteins (MRPs) on the permeability of the BBB and BRB to the ID using MK571, a selective inhibitor of MRPs. RESULTS: The permeability of these barriers to fluorescent IDs administered by simple immersion was comparable to when administered by intracardiac injection. Thus, this finding supports the validity of drug administration by simple immersion for the assessment of BBB and BRB permeability to fluorescent IDs. Using this zebrafish model, we demonstrated that the length of the methylene chain in these fluorescent IDs significantly affected their ability to cross the BBB and BRB via MRPs. CONCLUSIONS: We demonstrated that in vivo assessment of the permeability of the BBB and BRB to fluorescent IDs could be simply and reliably performed using zebrafish. The structure of fluorescent IDs can be flexibly modified and, thus, the permeability of the BBB and BRB to a large number of IDs can be assessed using this zebrafish-based assay. The large amount of data acquired might be useful for in silico analysis to elucidate the precise mechanisms underlying the interactions between chemical structure and the efflux transporters at the BBB and BRB. In turn, understanding these mechanisms may lead to the efficient design of compounds targeting the brain and retina.

Concepts: Fluorescence, Brain, In vivo, Retina, Chemical compound, Zebrafish, Injection, Intracardiac injection


The actin-based molecular motor myosin VI functions in the endocytic uptake pathway, both during the early stages of clathrin-mediated uptake and in later transport to/from early endosomes. This study uses fluorescence recovery after photobleaching (FRAP) to examine the turnover rate of myosin VI during endocytosis. The results demonstrate that myosin VI turns over dynamically on endocytic structures with a characteristic half-life common to both the large insert isoform of myosin VI on clathrin-coated structures and the no-insert isoform on early endosomes. This half-life is shared by the myosin VI-binding partner Dab2 and is identical for full-length myosin VI and the cargo-binding tail region. The 4-fold slower half-life of an artificially dimerized construct of myosin VI on clathrin-coated structures suggests that wild type myosin VI does not function as a stable dimer, but either as a monomer or in a monomer/dimer equilibrium. Taken together, these FRAP results offer insight into both the basic turnover dynamics and the monomer/dimer nature of myosin VI.

Concepts: Fluorescence, Molecular biology, Function, Dynamics, Endosome, Receptor-mediated endocytosis, Dynamin, Fluorescence recovery after photobleaching


Chlorophyll a fluorometry has long been used as a method to study phytoplankton in the ocean. In situ fluorometry is used frequently in oceanography to provide depth-resolved estimates of phytoplankton biomass. However, the high price of commercially manufactured in situ fluorometers has made them unavailable to some individuals and institutions. Presented here is an investigation into building an in situ fluorometer using low cost electronics. The goal was to construct an easily reproducible in situ fluorometer from simple and widely available electronic components. The simplicity and modest cost of the sensor makes it valuable to students and professionals alike. Open source sharing of architecture and software will allow students to reconstruct and customize the sensor on a small budget. Research applications that require numerous in situ fluorometers or expendable fluorometers can also benefit from this study. The sensor costs US$150.00 and can be constructed with little to no previous experience. The sensor uses a blue LED to excite chlorophyll a and measures fluorescence using a silicon photodiode. The sensor is controlled by an Arduino microcontroller that also serves as a data logger.

Concepts: Fluorescence, Fluorescence spectroscopy, Diode, Ocean, Transducer, Infrared, Pulse oximeter, Fluorometer


The fluorescence lifetimes of most red emitting organic probes are under 4 nanoseconds, which is a limiting factor in studying interactions and conformational dynamics of macromolecules. In addition, the nanosecond background autofluorescence is a significant interference during fluorescence measurements in cellular environment. Therefore, red fluorophores with longer lifetimes will be immensely helpful. Azaoxa-triangulenium fluorophores ADOTA and DAOTA are red emitting small organic molecules with high quantum yield, long fluorescence lifetime and high limiting anisotropy. In aqueous environment, ADOTA and DAOTA absorption and emission maxima are respectively 540 nm and 556 nm, and 556 nm and 589 nm. Their emission extends beyond 700 nm. Both probes have the limiting anisotropy between 0.36-0.38 at their absorption peak. In both protic and aprotic solvents, their lifetimes are around 20 ns, making them among the longest-lived red emitting organic fluorophores. Upon labeling of avidin, streptavidin and immunoglobulin their absorption and fluorescence are red-shifted. Unlike in free form, the protein-conjugated probes have heterogeneous fluorescence decays, with the presence of both significantly quenched and unquenched populations. Despite the presence of significant local motions due to a flexible trimethylene linker, we successfully measured both intermediate nanosecond intra-protein motions and slower rotational correlation times approaching 100 ns. Their long lifetimes are unaffected by the cell membrane (hexadecyl-ADOTA) and the intra-cellular (DAOTA-Arginine) localization. Their long lifetimes also enabled successful time-gating of the cellular autofluorescence resulting in background-free fluorescence lifetime based images. ADOTA and DAOTA retain a long fluorescence lifetime when free, as protein conjugate, in membranes and inside the cell. Our successful measurements of intermediate nanosecond internal motions and long correlations times of large proteins suggest that these probes will be highly useful to study slower intra-molecular motions and interactions among macromolecules. The fluorescence lifetime facilitated gating of cellular nanosecond autofluorescence should be of considerable help in in vitro and in vivo applications.

Concepts: Protein, Fluorescence, Cell membrane, In vivo, Organic compound, In vitro, Small molecule, 175


Many genetically encoded biosensors use Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) to dynamically report biomolecular activities. While pairs of cyan and yellow fluorescent proteins (FPs) are most commonly used as FRET partner fluorophores, respectively, green and red FPs offer distinct advantages for FRET, such as greater spectral separation, less phototoxicity, and lower autofluorescence. We previously developed the green-red FRET pair Clover and mRuby2, which improves responsiveness in intramolecular FRET reporters with different designs. Here we report the engineering of brighter and more photostable variants, mClover3 and mRuby3. mClover3 improves photostability by 60% and mRuby3 by 200% over the previous generation of fluorophores. Notably, mRuby3 is also 35% brighter than mRuby2, making it both the brightest and most photostable monomeric red FP yet characterized. Furthermore, we developed a standardized methodology for assessing FP performance in mammalian cells as stand-alone markers and as FRET partners. We found that mClover3 or mRuby3 expression in mammalian cells provides the highest fluorescence signals of all jellyfish GFP or coral RFP derivatives, respectively. Finally, using mClover3 and mRuby3, we engineered an improved version of the CaMKIIα reporter Camuiα with a larger response amplitude.

Concepts: Better, Fluorescence, Gene, Cell, Improve, Green fluorescent protein, Green, Förster resonance energy transfer


Fluorescent resonance energy transfer (FRET) with naturally exceptional selectivity is a powerful technique and widely used in chemical and biomedical analysis. However, it is still challenging for conventional FRET to perform as a high sensitivity compact sensor. Here we propose a novel ‘FRET on Fiber’ concept, in which a partially reduced graphene oxide (prGO) film is deposited on a fiber-optic modal interferometer, acting as both the fluorescent quencher for the FRET and the sensitive cladding for optical phase measurement due to refractive index changes in biochemical detection. The target analytes induced fluorescence recovery with good selectivity and optical phase shift with high sensitivity are measured simultaneously. The functionalized prGO film coated on the fiber-optic interferometer shows high sensitivities for the detections of metal ion, dopamine and single-stranded DNA (ssDNA), with detection limits of 1.2 nM, 1.3 μM and 1 pM, respectively. Such a prGO based ‘FRET on fiber’ configuration, bridging the FRET and the fiber-optic sensing technology, may serve as a platform for the realization of series of integrated ‘FRET on Fiber’ sensors for on-line environmental, chemical, and biomedical detection, with excellent compactness, high sensitivity, good selectivity and fast response.

Concepts: DNA, Fluorescence, Ultraviolet, Molecular biology, Light, Refractive index, Optical fiber, Förster resonance energy transfer


The sensing and differentiation of explosive molecules is key for both security and environmental monitoring. Single fluorophores are a widely used tool for explosives detection, but a fluorescent array is a more powerful tool for detecting and differentiating such molecules. By combining array elements into a single multichannel platform; faster results can be obtained from smaller amounts of sample. Here, five explosives are detected and differentiated using quantum dots as luminescent probes in a multichannel platform - 2,4-dinitrotoluene (DNT), 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene (TNT), tetryl (2,4,6-trinitrophenylmethylnitramine), cyclotrimethylenetrinitramine (RDX) and pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN). The sharp, variable emissions of the quantum dots, from a single excitation wavelength, make them ideal for such a system. Each colour quantum dot is functionalised with a different surface receptor via a facile ligation process. These receptors undergo non-specific interactions with the explosives, inducing variable fluorescence quenching of the quantum dots. Pattern analysis of the fluorescence quenching data allows for explosive detection and identification with limits-of-detection in the ppb range.

Concepts: Fluorescence, Light, Quantum dot, Luminescence, Plastic explosive, Trinitrotoluene, Pentaerythritol tetranitrate, Semtex