Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session


One summer in the 1960s a young Japanese researcher, with the help of a few high school students, chopped up ten thousand jellyfish. As a by-product of this harvest, they isolated a green fluorescent protein (GFP). Since then, GFP has triggered a revolution in our understanding of gene expression and signaling in live cells. In this seminar, we will examine how this small protein generates fluorescence, i.e. absorbs light of one wavelength and emits light of a longer wavelength. We will discuss how the color palette has been extended from green to blue, red and many other colors, based on protein engineering of GFP and the study of vividly colorful coral reefs. We will then investigate how these fluorescent proteins can be used to track the motion of DNA, RNA and protein in living cells, as well as to see waves of signaling molecules propagate across a cell. GFP is also a powerful tool for fluorescent imaging of whole organisms, from worms to mice, and we will see how it has been used in tracking the spread of cancer cells, controlling malaria and in understanding how neuronal connections form. In this seminar, we will explore this wonderful protein as well as other important methods and reagents for fluorescent imaging.

Course Format

An essential tool in science, as in life, is learning how to evaluate evidence to come to a conclusion. In biology evidence can be complex and can appear to be contradictory. This course is designed to familiarize you with the primary scientific literature, where data are presented, so that you can decide for yourself whether other people's conclusions are well-founded, uncertain, or wrong. The class should be highly interactive. You will be encouraged to express your opinions. Each week we will discuss two primary research papers. We will first consider the objective of the paper and the methods whereby conclusions were reached. We will look carefully at the data and examine whether the authors' conclusions are compelling.


The course is based on discussions and contributions in the class. Therefore attendance is essential.

Grading and Assignments

Grading is pass/fail. Attending all classes and completing all assignments satisfactorily will result in a pass.

There will be two assignments in this class:

  1. Written Assignment: You are required to write a title and an abstract for a manuscript on fluorescent imaging that we will provide. An abstract should include a basic introduction of the subject, the important observations and the implication of the results. The total length of the abstract should be less than 150 words. The manuscript will be distributed on Ses #2, due by Ses #5 and discussed on Ses #6.
  2. Oral Assignment: You will give a presentation to the class about a paper of your choice. These presentations will be during Ses #10. You should have selected your paper for approval by the instructors by Ses #8. See the lecture notes section (Ses #10) for details about the format.