New study taps autofluorescence of tissues in species for research

October 4, 2021 |

In Ohio, in a new study published in the journal Applications in Plant Sciences, scientists obviate the need for specimen staining by tapping into the natural autofluorescence of tissues in species across the plant tree of life.

When certain tissue types in both plants and animals absorb light, electrons in their atoms get a jolt of energy that bumps them into an excited state. In plant leaves, these electrons become so unstable that they break free from their atoms and are used by the plant to power photosynthesis. In other tissues, the excess energy is re-emitted in the form of low-frequency light bright enough to be detected with specialized microscopes.

Autofluorescence hasn’t always been viewed as a good thing. In cases where researchers have to use stains to visualize specific structures, the light-emitting properties of nearby tissues can interfere by decreasing the contrast between different cell types.

But it can also be an indispensable resource for discovery. Autofluorescence has been used to detect early onset cancers, as well as other diseases and pathologies. It’s been used to study how insects use their tongues and antennae to taste food, the mechanisms underlying tail regeneration in lizards, and to analyze the diversity of microscopic plankton in marine environments.

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Category: Research

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