Proteins from a mustard plant can turn living cells in animals into light sensors, according to a team from Duke University.
The genetic code from Arabidopsis thaliana plants has successfully been placed in yeast, brain and kidney tissue.
It effectively allows processes to be switched on and off by illuminating the cells, which act as light sensors and switches in one.
Researcher on the project Chandra Tucker explains that the technology could have applications in confined spaces where conventional instrumentation is too large.
"It's hard to deliver a chemical to a fly or to individual cells. This new approach ... makes building a light-controlled switch a lot easier," the scientist says.
Already the research has led to the creation of mammalian and yeast cells that glow around their edges when a blue light is shone on to them.
Duke University has 13,000 graduate and undergraduate students under the guide of a "world-class faculty" tasked with expanding their intellectual horizons.