A gene that causes jellyfish to glow in the dark is lighting the way for scientists who are working to develop better sugar for consumers and export customers of Australia's $1.8 billion sugar industry.
While the jellyfish gene itself will not be used in any farm crops used to make sugar, it is proving an invaluable tool for researchers at CSIRO Tropical Agriculture who want to find out if desirable genes inserted into sugarcane plants are working properly - or if undesirable genes have been switched off.
"It's a marker gene, and a particularly good one because it can be easily switched on - and you can see it working at once. It can help us identify the best way to transfer a new gene into a particular plant, determine which are the best switches to turn it on, and whether it is working as it should," explains Dr Adrian Elliott, a member of a small team led by Dr. Christopher Grof that aims to understand sucrose metabolism.
The jellyfish gene has other advantages - it is extremely quick to use compared with other gene markers, and enables scientists to check more samples for the best results at a far lower cost. The jellyfish gene is also a trailblazer, opening the way for the use of genes that will add value and quality to Australia's sugar production or help reduce its environmental impact through genes that confer resistance to pests and diseases.
While the gene is being trialled as a marker for genetic improvement of sugarcane, it may also prove useful in research by CSIRO Tropical Agriculture to improve other crops such as sunflowers, barley and mung beans.
The glow-in-the-dark substance is called green fluorescent protein (GFP)
and is made by a naturally-occurring gene in jellyfish called gfp, Dr Elliott
explains. Why jellyfish glow in the dark is not certain - but some biologists
believe they emit a flash of fluorescent light as a defensive measure to
Contact: Dr Adrian Elliott