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Heart telltale

Engineered cardiac cells flash when they beat

8:26pm, December 17, 2012

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SAN FRANCISCO — A protein borrowed from Dead Sea microbes and re-engineered by researchers makes heart cells light up with every contraction. The flashing cells may offer a way to predict whether new drugs will cause heart problems in people, Harvard researchers reported December 17 at the American Society for Cell Biology annual meeting.

Adam Cohen and his colleagues took a protein that helps a Dead Sea microorganism harvest energy from sunlight and broke the molecule so it works only in reverse, giving off instead of absorbing light under certain conditions. When placed in heart cells, the protein — called archaerhodopsin 3, or Arch for short — flashes dim red light when heart cells get an electrical signal to beat, Cohen reported. A different version of the Arch protein blinks blue when calcium enters the cell or is released from storage depots inside the cell to trigger heart muscle contr

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