Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Glowing firefly fish to indicate pollution

Schools of glowing fish could become a tool for monitoring water quality. The US government's National Institute of Environmental Health Services (NIEHS) has been funding research into fish that glow like a firefly when exposed to polluted water, a patent application reveals.
Fireflies light up when an enzyme in their stomach called luciferase oxidises luciferin. The NIEHS hopes to insert luciferase-producing genes from fireflies into the eggs of zebrafish. A related approach has been proposed previously (see Glowing red GM fish to sell in US).
Other genes would then be injected into the zebrafish making them sensitive to a particular pollutant. This could make the fish generate luciferase in the presence of mercury, for example.
The genetically modified fish could then be dangled in a cage into water at risk of pollution. After half an hour they could be removed and dunked into a solution containing luciferin. If they start to glow, it means the water is polluted. The brightness of their glow could even reveal just how bad the pollution is. And the fish should survive the process for re-use later.

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