Glow-in-the-dark bunnies

By Casey Frye, CNN Writer

University of Hawaii at Manoa Campus
A view of the beautiful University of Hawaii campus where the glow-in-the-dark rabbit technique was perfected.

Did you hear about the project from Ji Lee? He lined the streets of the world with little plastic rabbits. He wasn’t doing it to litter or anything. The toys were meant to send a message: if you’re having a bad day, just relax and enjoy the rabbits. I know I could use a tiny bunny statue when I’m having a bad day. But, what about the nights when I’m up late studying? The cute figurines would be hard to see. Well, maybe Lee can team up with genetic engineers Ryuzo Yanagimachi and Stefan Moisyadi for some advice.

You see, they created rabbits that glow in the dark! I’m not talking about cold, hard, and lifeless ones either (no offense Lee). Their rabbits were living and breathing, just like any other furry creature. Now, if you were in the sun or a brightly lit room, it would be impossible to tell they glowed. They have white fur and twitchy noses just like the rest of their kind. Turn off the lights or wait for the sunset, though, and you’ve got yourself a living glow stick!

“The rabbits were sensational,” said Moisyadi, who works at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “They were glowing so bright that even though their fur [was thick], it was even shining right through the fur.”

How did they do it? Well, you know about deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), right? It’s the molecule that instructs our bodies how to grow. If the rabbit DNA could talk, it would probably give directions like “grow two feet” and “make the fur white” or “make the rabbit ears really long.” The researchers essentially added another set of instructions, in a process known as genetic modification, that said “make the rabbit skin glow like a jellyfish!”

A glow-in-the-dark rabbit is really cool, but why did these mad scientists make them? Is it because the rabbits are pests? I did hear that bunnies are destroying crops all over California, so maybe they did it to make it easier for wolves to hunt them. I’d like to think scientists aren’t that cruel! These researchers are not, thank goodness. They actually made the bunnies glow just to test a genetic modification technique.

“It’s just a marker, it has no value whatsoever,” explains Moisyadi.

That doesn’t make the process valueless though. The engineers are going to use the same technique so they can make rabbits grow specific proteins to use for medicine. I wonder if that means we should expect glow-in-the-dark cough drops or something…

Images courtesy of University of Hawaii at Manoa.