We know gold, diamond and stars, they all shine. But did you know that our DNA can do the same? Scientists at the Northwestern University just discovered a feature of DNA we could never have imagined; it can blink back at us if left on its own. It seems DNA has the natural ability to fluoresce without the help of any stains.
“There are textbooks that say biological molecules don’t absorb light and don’t fluoresce,” said Hao Zhang, co-author and associate professor of biological engineering. “It’s what everyone learns; it’s a part of training, so nobody questions it.”
But how come no one ever realized or figured out that DNA can fluoresce on its own without additional help? According to the research team, the DNA molecules are usually found in the ‘dark state’ which is a resting condition where they don’t absorb or emit light. But it does not mean DNA does not ever come into the light. The secret is to figure out when the DNA will come into light. It seems that the DNA and requisite protein molecules turn on their ‘fluorescence’ only when they are active. However, this active state is short-lived and the resting state is quite long.
So now that we know that DNA can shine, what good can this revelation do? This discovery means DNA can be seen through stain-free super-resolution imaging paving way for a new era where biological processes can be examined in a new way. Traditional stains used to observe and analyze DNA molecules are toxic in nature, which means even though such stains are used to see biological molecules, they are slowly killing the living cells. This significantly limits the time scientists have to observe the DNA in its natural domain.
With this new discovery, scientists will not only be able to see the DNA without toxic dyes but since it can shine only in an active state, DNA will now be visible in action.