Medical Research

Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Inder Verma, Gerald Pao, Junko Ogawa, Nina Tonnu
La Jolla, CA
December 2017

The goal of this project is to harness the high refractive index of reflectin proteins to manipulate the optical properties of living cells and tissues.  Reflectins are found predominantly in the skin and eyes of cephalopods (squids, cuttlefishes, and octopi) and are essential for their unique camouflage and visual communication abilities.  By expressing reflectin genes in mammalian cells, investigators at Salk Institute aim to: (1) Generate transparent tissues in live mammals by matching the refractive index of the cellular cytoplasm and of the extracellular space to the higher refractive index of cell membranes; this would allow optical manipulation and microscopic observation of deep tissue areas.  (2) Create novel, optogenetic sensors for monitoring dynamic behavior within cellular compartments; these optical readouts would be dependent on optical refractive index changes resulting from the isotropic or anisotropic distribution of reflectins.  These technologies would collectively enable multiple types of imaging and achieve a completely novel modality of microscopy applications.

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