Affordable Access

Publisher Website

Building customizable auto-luminescent luciferase-based reporters in plants.

  • Khakhar, Arjun1, 2
  • Starker, Colby G1, 2
  • Chamness, James C1, 2
  • Lee, Nayoung3
  • Stokke, Sydney1, 2
  • Wang, Cecily1, 2
  • Swanson, Ryan1, 2
  • Rizvi, Furva1, 2
  • Imaizumi, Takato3
  • Voytas, Daniel F1, 2
  • 1 Department Genetics, Cell Biology, & Development, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, United States. , (United States)
  • 2 Center for Precision Plant Genomics, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, United States. , (United States)
  • 3 Department of Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, United States. , (United States)
Published Article
"eLife Sciences Organisation, Ltd."
Publication Date
Mar 25, 2020
DOI: 10.7554/eLife.52786
PMID: 32209230


Many animals have evolved the capacity to produce light from chemical reactions. For example, an enzyme known as luciferase in fireflies produces light by acting on a molecule called luciferin. Scientists have identified the enzymes that drive several of these systems and used them to build reporters that can study the activity of genes in the tissues of plants and other lifeforms over space and time. However, these reporters often require chemicals to be added to the tissues to produce light. These chemicals tend to be expensive and may not penetrate evenly into the tissues of interest, limiting the potential applications of the reporters in research studies. Recently, it has been discovered that fungi have a bioluminescence pathway that converts a molecule known as caffeic acid into luciferin. Caffeic acid is a common molecule in plants, therefore, it is possible the fungal bioluminescence pathway could be used to build reporters that produce light without needing the addition of chemicals. Now, Khakhar et al. have inserted the genes that encode the enzymes of the fungal bioluminescence pathway into tobacco plants. The experiments found that this was sufficient to turn caffeic acid into molecules of luciferin which are able to produce light. Inserting the same genes into several other plant species, including tomatoes and dahlias, produced similar results. Further experiments showed that the fungal bioluminescence pathway can be used to build reporters that monitor the activity of plant genes throughout living tissues and over a period of several days as well as examine the response to plant hormones. Alongside studying the activities of genes in plants, Khakhar et al. propose that the toolkit developed in this work could be used to generate plants with luminescence that can be switched on or off as desired. This could have many uses including helping plants attract insects to pollinate flowers and building plant biosensors that emit light in response to environmental signals.

Report this publication


Seen <100 times