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They injected a human kidney cell with a loop of DNA that codes for an enhanced form of green fluorescent protein. Originally isolated from jellyfish, GFP glows green when exposed to blue light and has been invaluable as a biological beacon, tracking the path of molecules inside cells and lighting up when certain genes are expressed.
The human kidney cell that was used to make the laser survived the experience. In future such "living lasers" might be created inside live animals, which could potentially allow internal tissues to be imaged in unprecedented detail.