Holiday science explains how Rudolph got a bright red nose

Rudolph's red nose beams in the 1964 classic "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." (CNN Photo)

CNN — Ever wonder how Rudolph could genetically develop a glowing red nose?

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have unraveled this scientific mystery, just in time for your holiday gatherings.

The idea to solve this storybook enigma was the brainchild of Jill Rosen, senior media representative for Johns Hopkins. After all, the university is known for “research that tends to be pretty serious,” she said. “But with the holidays coming, there was a chance to have a little fun with science.”

Once ridiculed by all the other reindeer, Rudolph’s fluorescent schnoz saved the day by guiding Santa’s sleigh through dense fog. So how did he get that snuffer?

“The key to understanding Rudolph’s nose is to know that there are many animals on the planet that have bioluminescent or fluorescent parts to them — anthozoan corals, jellyfish,” biology professor Dr. Steve Farber said.

So it’s possible that before Rudolph was born, his mom was delivering Santa’s presents around the world when she had a fateful encounter with a glowing red animal.

“She passed out, the sleigh went down, and she struck … one of these brilliantly red corals,” Farber hypothesized.

That coral’s DNA could have entered her bloodstream and into the egg cell that would eventually help produce Rudolph.

“What we are saying is not crazy,” he told CNN.

OK, so why is Rudolph’s nose the only part that’s beaming?

“With Rudolph, the coral DNA got inserted into a gene that is normally expressed in the nasal epithelial cells — the cells of his nose — kind of hijacking Rudolph’s nose cells and instructing them to make the red protein,” Farber said.

“And since the coral DNA is now in Rudolph’s DNA, it will be present forever through his life.”

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