Cell Based Assays

Luciferase and Beta-galactosidase


Cell-based assays are highly efficient screening systems that measure biomolecular changes in cells.  These assays are frequently used in molecular biology, biochemical or pharmaceutical research experiments to study a wide range of biological phenomenon.  Two cell-based assays that are invaluable to researchers are those that incorporate luciferase and beta-galactosidase.  These two technologies are implemented in transfection systems to assess transcriptional activity in transfected cells.

These assays enable scientists to examine biological phenomena such as disease states, cell signaling, responses to stimuli, etc.  Other aspects include cell metabolism, how ligands enter the cell, cytotoxicity of substances, actions of receptor molecules and how ligands localize within the cell.


The luciferase protein produces a bioluminescent signal when it comes in contact with the substrate luciferin.  Quite a few animals including bacteria, Renilla, Aequorin and the click beetle exhibit bioluminescence.  The phenomenon is almost synonymous with the firefly, Photinus pyralis.  In molecular biology studies, the firefly luciferase is most extensively used.


Encoded by the lacZ gene in E. coli, beta-galactosidase hydrolyzes lactose into galactose and glucose. Using in vitro systems, scientists replace lactose with o-nitrophenyl-D-galactopyraniside (ONGP), a reaction that releases a yellow color.  Researchers then measure the rate at which this yellow color accumulates as a means to determine transfection efficiency.


Scientists tag the luciferase and beta-gal genes to promoter sites of genes whose expression is to be studied.  After transfection, host cell lysates are exposed to the appropriate substrates and the lysates show a biochemical activity characteristic of the reporter gene.  This means light is emitted when lysates containing luciferase are mixed with its specific substrate (luciferin), and a yellow color appears when lysates containing beta-gal are exposed to ONGP.

Knowing that luciferase and beta-gal are not an endogenously expressed across many organisms, cell-based assays that include luciferase and beta-gal can be safely used with different cells belonging to a variety of organisms, both plants and animals.

The luminescent and colorimetric changes observed function as efficient markers and are easily quantifiable.  Due to tagging with the gene of interest, only those cells which are successfully transfected will exhibit these property changes.  In summary. a measurement of luminescence or yellow color in exhibits the amount of expression of the introduced plasmid.

The luciferase reaction can be measured with the help of a luminometer, while beta-gal absorption can be read using a spectrophotometer at 420 nm.  These cell-based assays are multipurpose, easy to perform, non-toxic, non-radioactive, sensitive, fast and high throughput cell screening tools.  Aside from being used to determine gene expression in transfection systems, they are employed extensively in drug discovery and for in-depth studies of cellular events.

Luciferase sensitivity enables it to be measured in amounts as low as 10 molecules per cell.  The firefly luciferase is naturally translated as a mature enzyme and does not require any modifications, so it starts functioning as soon as it is made.  With the growing popularity of cell-based assays, laboratory product manufacturers have come up with an impressive line of cell-based assay kits and reagents.

Most efficient animal siRNA delivery kits are: Nanoparticle- and liposome-based siRNA In Vivo Transfection Reagents.

Biology CRO pre-clinical research services include IC50 pharm/tox testing, xenograft animal studies, RNAi services, siRNA and protein liposome encapsulation, in vivo siRNA delivery and tissue-targeting, generation of stable cell lines in 28 days, inducible RNAi cell line development, cell banking and cryopreservation GLP-compliant services, teratoma, RNAi and biodistribution research studies.