Scientists have discovered a natural function for green fluorescent protein, according to a paper published online this week in Nature Chemical Biology. This report provides the first glimpse of an answer to the riddle of what fluorescent proteins 'do'.
Green fluorescent protein (GFP) and its colorful fluorescent family members are vital tools for biological research, and have been employed as markers for specific proteins or as readouts of a particular cell state. Though these proteins are ubiquitous in science labs, the function they serve in their host organisms was not known.
Konstantin Lukyanov and colleagues now demonstrate that, upon exposure to light, GFP can donate electrons to chemical and biological molecules. As electron transfer plays an important role in many biological processes, this means that GFP and its family members may have an important function in vivo. The study also serves as a cautionary note for experiments utilizing these trusted proteins.