Tropical Fish Research
Glowing Eel Protein Assesses Human Liver Function
The sushi you may be eating in your favourite Sushi restaurant that uses Unagi in its production is actually using a freshwater eel called the Japanese freshwater eel – Anguilla japonica. Few know that it contains a glowing eel protein that may become important in diagnosing both blood and liver problems in humans. It is presently seen as endangered in Japan. But it could become a whole lot more important than a fancy dinner menu item. This particular eel is the first known vertebrate that creates a fluorescing protein. Besides being unique in that aspect, it is also being studied in the hope that it can help diagnose liver problems. This lifesaving purpose may become a huge impetus to force people to conserve its much better.
The protein has been termed UnaG by a pair of Japanese researchers Drs. Atsushi Miyawaki and Akiko Kumaga. They use the term as a shortened version of Unagi green protein. It will only fluoresce when it comes into contact with a naturally manufactured compound in the eels blood termed bilirubin. It is found in the muscles of the eel.
In humans, this is a compound that occurs when there are problems with the liver and it is released into the bloodstream. The article by Gizmag outlines the use of bilirubin in their article titled Glowing eels may help save human lives
it can be toxic, leading to conditions such as jaundice. The measurement of bilirubin levels in the blood is commonly used to assess the condition of the liver, and also to detect the loss of red blood cells due to anemia.
In order to develop a highly sensitive, accurate and fast method of testing for bilirubin in blood samples, the RIKEN scientists started by cloning the fluorescing gene from UnaG. Having studied the process by which it’s activated, they proceeded to create a system in which UnaG binds with any bilirubin present in a sample, causing it to glow. They now hope that once perfected, that system could find wide use, particularly in developing nations.
Glowing Eel Protein can be used to Test Liver Function
The researchers are trying to clone the glowing eel protein to make an effective test to determine whether there are problem with the liver in third world countries. It certainly is much simpler than using invasive surgery or expensive tests that are out of the realm of possibility for developing countries.