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Dr Ernst Wimmer
"Making green eyes will help a lot of people"
 real 28k

Thursday, 25 November, 1999, 13:45 GMT
Green glow of success
The fruit fly with the green eye (Photo: A Pinkerton)

Genetically-modified insects with eyes that glow in the dark have been created by German researchers.

The ability to produce such bright-eyed creatures could help scientists develop new ways to combat diseases that are spread by insects, such as malaria, and control pests that do damage to crops.

When the eyes glow, the researchers know that the changes they have made to the insects' genome have worked. The idea is to use the technique as a marker to track the successful incorporation of other, more useful genes such as those that would lead to sterility.

Dr Ernst Wimmer, at the University of Bayreuth, and Andreas Berghammer and Dr Martin Klingler, of the University of Munich, believe their green marker technique will work in all insects.

The glow is produced by a molecule found in the jelly-fish Aequorea victoria. It has been used before as a marker in genetic modification. But the German team's achievement has been to find a way of amplifying the signal - their technique increases its brightness.

The flour beetle was also modified (Photo: A Berghammer)



They have done this by attaching a novel, artificial promoter region to the jelly-fish gene that codes for the fluorescent protein. A promoter is, as its name suggests, a piece of DNA that kick-starts the process by which a cell manufactures the protein.

The researchers report in the journal Nature that their promoter can bring about abundant expression of the fluorescent protein in the eyes of species as diverse as the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster and the flour beetle Tribolium castaneum.

The improved marker will be of immense value to geneticists attempting to develop new ways of tackling insect problems, believes Dr Wimmer.

In combating malaria, for example, it might be possible to genetically-engineer the mosquitoes to not pass on the parasite that causes the disease. Some insects that destroy crops could be made sterile. Using the German marker, scientists would be able to tell quickly and easily which of their experimental lines were showing promise.

"It will propel a lot of insect biology," Dr Wimmer told the BBC. "You cannot kill insects with green eyes - that's perfectly clear - but you can use it as a tool to push your research forward."

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See also:
17 May 99 |  Sci/Tech
Green mice boost genetic engineering
25 Oct 99 |  Sci/Tech
GM Christmas tree would glow
14 Sep 99 |  Sheffield 99
Fluorescent GM potatoes say 'water me'
23 Mar 99 |  Sci/Tech
Scientists spin fluorescent green silk

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