Mitochondria are the energy centers of a cell – but if something is reducing their yield, it can be difficult to determine why. To better study mitochondrial function, a team of researchers from Switzerland’s Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne developed a method to make mice glow in the dark, like fireflies. Their work is published today in the magazine Natural Chemistry Biology.
Like the cell itself, mitochondria have a membrane that filters out material entering and leaving their structure. The membrane that relies on a difference in polarity is called a “membrane voltage” and when the membrane voltage decreases, it can be a sign of a problem. Examining that membrane is why scientists need to make mice glow.
So! To do that, (EPFL professor and lead author of the paper) Elena Goun and team used genetically engineered mice to express luciferase, the enzyme that produces light when combined with another compound. It̵7;s called luciferin – exactly how fireflies glow. The team developed two molecules that, when injected into mice, pass into the mitochondria and produce luciferin, which makes the mice glow. Elena Goun said: “In a completely dark room you can see glowing rats, like fireflies.
Studying mitochondrial function is as simple as measuring mouse brightness. The brighter they are, the more luciferin in the mitochondria, the better the mitochondrial function. This animal model mitochondrial function test could be extremely useful in things like research into cancer drugs, as well as things like diabetes, cancer, aging, nutrition and neurodegenerative diseases.
READ MORE: Fireflies shed light on mitochondrial function [EPFL]
Learn more about Mouse Studies: Hanging Mouse On A Hanging Animation. Will it work on humans?