When I posted yesterday about hobbyists who make glow-in-the-dark bacteria, it hadn’t occurred to me that serious researchers work at making larger animals glow. But today (actually tomorrow, but it’s posted already, perhaps in a time zone where it is tomorrow already) National Geographic has a series of photos of various animals that glow. Some glow naturally, but most have had fluorescent protein added. Of these, most glow green, but a couple glow red.
Aside from the novelty of it (can you imagine taking a glowing red dog for a walk? – though you’d have to find an ultraviolet lit place to walk in to get the effect), there are serious scientific reasons for it. Glowing organs, glowing neurons in the brain, glowing intestines – these help researchers to observe more clearly what is happening in the body. In healthy animals, they can observe normal patterns to better understand how the body works. In other cases, a disease is introduced and the glow helps track the progress of the disease.
In the case of the scorpions (which glow under ultraviolet light without any genetic modifications), fluorescence enables scientists to study them without disturbing them. It’s always good to study animals in their natural state – but I imagine in the case of scorpions it’s especially good, as no one wants to upset a scorpion unless the goal is to discover their sting-giving potential.
Fluorescent pet fish aren’t particularly useful (though apparently popular), but they did have the side benefit of forcing countries to develop laws to deal with the issues surrounding genetically modified pets. I wonder – what would it be like to have a glowing green puppy? The dog’s eyes glow green in the dark quite well without modification, and it is sometimes unnerving to wake up and see them glowing in the dark. It would make it easier to find her in the dark, I suppose, so I don’t trip over her (though I don’t think I really want to keep ultraviolet lights on in the bedroom). But waking up to see a glowing green body? – no, I think I’ll stick with the old-fashioned jet-black version.