Some of the most commented images of landscapes are the known as “seas of stars” of Jervis Bay (Australia) or the caves of stars in New Zealand. Places that glow in the dark. Is it a photomontage? In fact, it is a natural process whereby organisms that have the ability to shine with their own light.
WHAT IS BIOLUMINESCENCE?
Although it seems a magical landscape of a fairy tale, this is not a magical process. The bioluminescence is a type of chemiluminescence (chemical production process of light) by which living organisms are capable of producing light. It must not be confused with fluorescence. The latter is characterized by the reception of aphoton of the medium which then is sent, while the bioluminescence is the production of lightby the same body.
Species of all kingdoms have this capability: bacteria, fungi, fish, insects etc. It is estimatedthat 90% of the species that live in the deepest regions of the ocean are capable ofproducing light. Marc Arenas talks about these fascinating organisms in his two articles “Voyage to thebottom os the deep sea I and II“. At ground level this number drops, yet we all know thecase of fireflies (family Lampyridae) and bioluminescent fungi (genus Amarillia, Mycena…).
The bioluminescence reaction is an oxidation that produces no heat. The organisms present a protein known as Luciferine which by the action of an enzyme luciferase, it is oxidized. In the next image we see a simple representation of this reaction. The luciferase allows Luciferine protein join to the oxygen. The resulting energy of this oxidation is emitted as light. To carry out this process organisms have to spend energy, consuming ATP (energy molecule used for the functioning of the cells).
There are two different types of bioluminescence: intracellular (the chemical reaction occurs in specialized bodies) and extracellular (molecules are synthesized in the body and are then expelled to the outside where the reaction occurs). In the case of the intracellular, we can find those organisms that synthesize the necessary molecules or those that have a symbiotic relationship with luminescent bacteria.
As we have said, the majority of organisms that have the ability to synthesize its own light live in dark places (caves, deep ocean…). These creatures have had to adapt to these harsh conditions. The bioluminescence is used for a wide variety of situations.
- Intraspecific communication. Used for communication between organisms of the same species, e.g. for mating. In the article “How do insects communicate?” Irene tells of the different methods used, including bioluminescence, used by the fireflies.
- Defense. There are certain living organisms that being disturbed or attacked produce light intracellularly or extracellularly to scare away the predator. A very interesting example is Vampire squid (Vampyrotethis infernalis) that spits out a bioluminescent mucus to fool predators.
- Attracting the prey. Certain organisms possess organs producing light that attract their prey. As for example the belonging to the genus Lophiiformes.
- Camouflage. In certain cases the bioluminescence is used for camouflage in the shadows of the ocean, it would be the case of lantershark.
BIOLUMINESCENCE IN MICROORGANISMS
Many microorganisms have the ability to produce their own light, and their intentions are not very different from the of higher organisms. In certain cases, the bioluminescence is used as a method of detoxification of the oxygen, i.e., a simple way to remove the excess oxygen. In others, used as a method of communication.
One thought on “Bioluminescence: shining light”