An endogenous green fluorescent protein-photoprotein pair in Clytia hemisphaerica eggs shows co-targeting to mitochondria and efficient bioluminescence energy transfer

Open Biol. 2014 Apr 9;4(4):130206. doi: 10.1098/rsob.130206.


Green fluorescent proteins (GFPs) and calcium-activated photoproteins of the aequorin/clytin family, now widely used as research tools, were originally isolated from the hydrozoan jellyfish Aequora victoria. It is known that bioluminescence resonance energy transfer (BRET) is possible between these proteins to generate flashes of green light, but the native function and significance of this phenomenon is unclear. Using the hydrozoan Clytia hemisphaerica, we characterized differential expression of three clytin and four GFP genes in distinct tissues at larva, medusa and polyp stages, corresponding to the major in vivo sites of bioluminescence (medusa tentacles and eggs) and fluorescence (these sites plus medusa manubrium, gonad and larval ectoderms). Potential physiological functions at these sites include UV protection of stem cells for fluorescence alone, and prey attraction and camouflaging counter-illumination for bioluminescence. Remarkably, the clytin2 and GFP2 proteins, co-expressed in eggs, show particularly efficient BRET and co-localize to mitochondria, owing to parallel acquisition by the two genes of mitochondrial targeting sequences during hydrozoan evolution. Overall, our results indicate that endogenous GFPs and photoproteins can play diverse roles even within one species and provide a striking and novel example of protein coevolution, which could have facilitated efficient or brighter BRET flashes through mitochondrial compartmentalization.

Keywords: Hydrozoa; bioluminescence resonance energy transfer; clytin; green fluorescent protein; protein coevolution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / genetics
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / metabolism*
  • Hydrozoa / growth & development
  • Hydrozoa / metabolism*
  • Life Cycle Stages
  • Luminescent Proteins / classification
  • Luminescent Proteins / genetics
  • Luminescent Proteins / metabolism*
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Ovum / metabolism
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / genetics
  • Sequence Alignment


  • Luminescent Proteins
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • phialidin
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins