In the early 1960s, in a small shack on the Washington coast, a young, self-educated Japanese scientist performed an experiment to determine what made a certain jellyfish glow. The substance he discovered, green fluorescent protein, would revolutionize molecular biology, transforming our study of everything from the AIDS virus to the workings of the brain. Aglow in the Dark follows the path that took this glowing compound from its inauspicious arrival on the scientific scene to its present-day eminence as one of the most groundbreaking discoveries of the twentieth century.
The story unfolds in far-flung places, from the coral reefs of the Pacific Ocean, to the medical schools and marine stations of our leading universities, to a cold war-era research laboratory in Moscow. Traversing the globe and the decades, Aglow in the Dark conveys the human fascination with bioluminescence, or “living light,” its little-known application in war, forensic science, and molecular biology, and how it led to the finding of green fluorescent protein. The book reveals a hidden world where light is manipulated by animals and humans and put to remarkable uses—unlocking the secrets of the human brain, conquering dreaded diseases, and perhaps someday linking minds and machines. The authors deftly lead the reader through a complex story at the interface of biology and physics—and into the realm of wonder on the frontiers of scientific endeavor.