By adapting a genetic engineering technique called Brainbow, originally developed for labeling brain cells in mice, scientists are able to genetically program every cell on the surface of a zebrafish to glow in a slightly different color hue when viewed in a fluorescence light microscope. This method effectively gives each cell a unique identity over the cell's eight-day lifespan, like a living barcode, and enables the scientists to simultaneously track hundreds of cells during the development and regeneration of fish tissues.
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The skin cells are genetically engineered to randomly express different combinations and levels of red, green and blue fluorescent proteins. Using currently-available microscopes, at least 70 different color hues can be detected.
Chen-Hui Chen, Ph.D. and Kenneth Poss, PhD., Department of Cell Biology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC