Since their invention some 50 years ago, lasers have made a tremendous impact on modern science and technology. Nevertheless, lasing has so far relied on artificial or engineered optical gain materials, such as doped crystals, semiconductors, synthetic dyes and purified gases. Here, we show that fluorescent proteins in cells are a viable gain medium for optical amplification, and report the first successful realization of biological cell lasers based on green fluorescent protein (GFP). We demonstrate in vitro protein lasers using recombinant GFP solutions and introduce a laser based on single live cells expressing GFP. On optical pumping with nanojoule/nanosecond pulses, individual cells in a high-Q microcavity produce bright, directional and narrowband laser emission, with characteristic longitudinal and transverse modes. Lasing cells remained alive even after prolonged lasing action. Light amplification and lasing from and within biological systems pave the way to new forms of intracellular sensing, cytometry and imaging.
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