Fluorescent proteins are indispensable for selective, quantitative visualization of localization, dynamics, and interactions of key molecular constituents of live cells. Incorporation of fluorescent proteins into an optical cavity can lead to a significant increase in fluorescence signal levels due to stimulated emission and light amplification in the cavity, forming a laser with biological gain medium. Utilization of lasing emission from fluorescent biological molecules can then greatly enhance the performance of fluorescence-based biosensors benefiting from the high sensitivity of non-linear lasing processes to small perturbations in the cavity and the gain medium. Here we study optofluidic biolasers that exploit active liquid optical resonators formed by surface-supported aqueous microdroplets containing purified yellow fluorescent protein or a suspension of live E. coli bacterial cells expressing the fluorescent protein. We first demonstrate lasing in fluorescent protein solutions at concentrations as low as 49 µM. Subsequently, we show that a single fluorescent bacterial cell of micrometre size confined in a droplet-based cavity can serve as a laser gain medium. Aqueous droplet microcavities allow the maintenance of the bacterial cells under conditions compatible with unimpeded growth. Therefore, our results also suggest a direct route to microscopic sources of laser light with self-regenerating gain media.
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