by Kim McDonald

UCSD biologists develop six different colored fluorescent proteins in algae cells. Photo credit: Beth Rasala, UC San Diego

UCSD biologists develop six different colored fluorescent proteins in algae cells. Photo credit: Beth Rasala, UC San Diego

Biologists at UC San Diego have announced the successful engineering of Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, a green alga commonly used in laboratories, into a rainbow of different colors by producing six different colored fluorescent proteins in the algae cells.

In announcing their achievement in the current issue of The Plant Journal, the UC San Diego biologists said tagging algae with different kinds of fluorescent proteins would provide an important laboratory tool for algae researchers. It could be used to sort different kinds of cells, allow scientists to view cellular structures like the cytoskeleton and flagella, or even to create “fusion proteins,” allowing scientists to follow a protein around the cell.

The scientists say the multi-colored proteins are powerful tools that will allow biologists working on algae to make biotechnology developments more rapidly, ultimately leading to the production of lower-cost biofuels and cheaper human and animal therapeutics.

Several months ago, biologists in the same UC San Diego laboratory reported genetically engineering Chlamydomonas algae to produce a complex and expensive human therapeutic drug used to treat cancer.

The rainbow-colored algae were developed by a collaboration that included scientists from the University of Nebraska. Beth Rasala, a postdoctoral fellow in Mayfield’s laboratory, was the lead author of The Plant Journal paper. The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the California Energy Commission.