Wavelength-shifting molecular beacons

Nat Biotechnol. 2000 Nov;18(11):1191-6. doi: 10.1038/81192.


We describe wavelength-shifting molecular beacons, which are nucleic acid hybridization probes that fluoresce in a variety of different colors, yet are excited by a common monochromatic light source. The twin functions of absorption of energy from the excitation light and emission of that energy in the form of fluorescent light are assigned to two separate fluorophores in the same probe. These probes contain a harvester fluorophore that absorbs strongly in the wavelength range of the monochromatic light source, an emitter fluorophore of the desired emission color, and a nonfluorescent quencher. In the absence of complementary nucleic acid targets, the probes are dark, whereas in the presence of targets, they fluoresce-not in the emission range of the harvester fluorophore that absorbs the light, but rather in the emission range of the emitter fluorophore. This shift in emission spectrum is due to the transfer of the absorbed energy from the harvester fluorophore to the emitter fluorophore by fluorescence resonance energy transfer, and it only takes place in probes that are bound to targets. Wavelength-shifting molecular beacons are substantially brighter than conventional molecular beacons that contain a fluorophore that cannot efficiently absorb energy from the available monochromatic light source. We describe the spectral characteristics of wavelength-shifting molecular beacons, and we demonstrate how their use improves and simplifies multiplex genetic analyses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Binding, Competitive
  • Energy Transfer*
  • Fluorescence Polarization
  • Fluorescent Dyes / chemistry*
  • Genetic Techniques*
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Nucleic Acid Hybridization
  • Oligonucleotide Probes / chemistry
  • Oligonucleotide Probes / metabolism*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA / methods
  • Spectrometry, Fluorescence / methods


  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Oligonucleotide Probes