As part of this research trip to the Cook Islands, I’m bringing my payload for the OpenROV which has been designed, developed and tested to excite and detect fluorescent proteins in coral reefs. This work is in partial completion of my masters degree at Plymouth University, UK where my research is being completed at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, UK. As such, I am also bringing the British contingent to this international collaboration!
My interests are within using technology to explore and discover the marine environment. This research venture will explore the fluorescence corals produce using my payload. This will be the first time it has been tested in a real world environment, rather than controlled laboratory experiments which have shown great results so far.
Fluorescent proteins pose one of the best visualisation tools in biology. They can be ‘tagged’ to other cells inside the body, including neurons, cancer cells, fibroblasts and many more to act as reporters for cellular localisation, function, movement etc., which is particularly useful in metastasising cancer and tumour growth. They work by absorbing photons at a given wavelength and re-emitting them at a higher wavelength.
These proteins have a colour palette that spans most of the visible spectrum, with the most useful to biomedicine in the far-red. This is due to the body becoming more transparent in the far-red than lower in the spectrum (blue, green etc.), and therefore increasing the resolution and precision we can see down to, allowing us to examine the body and its functions like never before. Yet the far-red remains the only part of the visible spectrum to have no natural fluorescent protein. Whilst this venture is focused on proof of concept, future projects will develop this further to discover a novel far-red fluorescent protein.
On top of this, we believe we may be able to use coral fluorescence as a proxy to assess the state of coral health. This trip, with materials and expertise from our collaborators at CSUCI (Sean Anderson, Paul Spaur and the research team), will provide an excellent starting point to get the ball rolling for a cheap method of coral health assessments.
I very much look forward to meeting the team in person – in less than a week! Now, back to the lab to battle with more technology …