The green fluorescent protein (GFP) of the jellyfish Aequorea victoria is an unusual protein with strong visible absorbance and fluorescence from a p-hydroxybenzylidene-imidazolidinone chromophore, which is generated by cyclization and oxidation of the protein's own Ser-Tyr-Gly sequence at positions 65-67. Cloning of the cDNA and heterologous expression of fluorescent protein in a wide variety of organisms indicate that this unique posttranslational modification must be either spontaneous or dependent only on ubiquitous enzymes and reactants. We report that formation of the final fluorophore requires molecular oxygen and proceeds with a time constant (approximately 4 hr at 22 degrees C and atmospheric pO2) independent of dilution, implying that the oxidation does not require enzymes or cofactors. GFP was mutagenized and screened for variants with altered spectra. The most striking mutant fluoresced blue and contained histidine in place of Tyr-66. The availability of two visibly distinct colors should significantly extend the usefulness of GFP in molecular and cell biology by enabling in vivo visualization of differential gene expression and protein localization and measurement of protein association by fluorescence resonance energy transfer.