By: KN
What is Bioluminescence?
Bioluminescence is the production and emission of
light by any living organism
Glowing animals, typically create light through
Chemical compounds are mix together to produce
a glow
Most of the energy generated is emitted as light
rather than as heat and thus known as cold light
Bioluminescent Life Forms
Bioluminescence has been found
across a broad range of the major
groups of organisms from bacteria
and protists to squid and fishes, with
numerous phyla in between
Terrestrial species (e.g. fireflies) have
the same ability
Bioluminescence is the only source of
light for the underwater creatures
About 90% of the organisms that live
in the ocean have the capability to
produce light
These creatures produce light for a
variety of reasons:
 Finding or attracting prey
 Defence against predators
 Communication
 Mate attraction/recognition
Most abundant bioluminescent
dinoflagellate, Noctiluca scintillans
Below: Flashes when disturbed
The female anglerfish
attracts its prey by
dangling a lighted “lure”
that extends from the top
of its head to the front of
its gaping mouth
This lighted lure contains
bioluminescent bacteria
Male anglerfishes are
attracted to the females
by their odor and
distinctive light displays
& Luciferase
Raphael Dubois, professor of physiology at the University of Lyons,
France, and director of the Marine Laboratory at Tamaris-sur-Mer
Major Luminescence Systems
1. Bacterial Luciferin is a reduced
riboflavin phosphate and found in
bacteria, some fish, and squid.
2. Dinoflagellate Luciferin is thought to
be derived from chlorophyll because it
has similar structure and is found in
dinoflagellates and euphasiid shrimp.
3. Vargulin (Cypridina) is found in the
ostracod Vargula. Was one of the first
marine luciferins chemically well
understood. Ostracods synthesize their
luciferin from tryptophan, isoleucine,
and arginine
4. Coelenterazine (Aequorin) is the most
common luciferin; it is found in many
phyla- the radiolarians, ctenophores,
cnidarians, squids, copepods,
chaetognaths, and some fish and
shrimp and very likely, the hydrozoa
(jellyfish, Aequorea).
5. Firefly luciferin which requires
adenosine triphosphate (ATP) - the
energy currency of cells- as a cofactor
in its reactions.
Aequorea victoria
Coelenterazine has been found to be the light-emitter in an ever-growing list
of bioluminescent species representing nine phyla
The components of this molecule was first discovered by a young Japanese
Fulbright Scholar and biochemist named Osamu Shimomura
In 1960, Shimomura was received an invitation to Princeton to further study
the bioluminescent jellyfish Aequorea victoria, specifically in isolating the
luminous reactants and purifying the bioluminescent properties of the
Shimomura purified a photoprotein he called Aequorin that when activated
by calcium emitted bright blue light (469 nm). This form of calcium-activated
bioluminescence reaction does in fact involve a luciferin, called
coelenterazine that binds to the Aequorin rapidly and tightly but produces
light only when calcium is present.
(Green Fluorescent
of Bioluminescence
The protein, GFP can be found in
the photo organs of Aequorea
In this certain process, the blue
light is absorbed by the GFP, and
converted into visible green light
This exchange of energy is a
process called bioluminescence
resonance energy transfer.
Green fluorescent protein is
expressed in almost any
organism: plants, frogs, fishes,
mice, yeast and more.
Now researchers have developed
ways to watch processes that
were previously invisible, such as
the development of nerve cells in
the brain or how cancer cells
Above: A live
mouse containing
the gene for red
fluorescent protein
in the brain
Left: A live mouse
with lung tumors
labeled with red
and green
fluorescent protein
Bioluminescent Imaging (BLI)
Bioluminescence imaging has been emerging as a tool commonly used for preclinical
cellular and molecular imaging in small animals.
This type of imaging is performed in vivo and involves an injection of luciferin into an
animal using a type of luciferase enzyme, most frequently the firefly luciferase which is
widely used as a marker for gene expression in living organisms
(A study done in vivo looks at how the body responds to a particular substance)
Molecular imaging requires a type of luciferase, the most frequently used: Firefly
(Photinus pyralis) luciferase. In addition to the enzyme-substrate reaction, it requires
cofactors such as oxygen, magnesium and ATP that produces an electronically excited
Firefly luciferase remains the preferred enzyme for bioluminescence molecular imaging
because its reaction with luciferin produces more light (emits light with a broad
emission spectrum and a peak at 560 nm)
Yet many factors can influence bioluminescence measurements which makes this a
highly sensitive method for small-animal molecular imaging
(a) One mice injected
with a type of virus and
monitored using the
(b) PET scan and the
(c) optical imaging (BLI)
where you can see the
exact location of the
virus in the body
Although bioluminescence is common, there are still many unknown aspects
of this phenomenon to be discovered.
Animals have lots of methods for producing and using light, in ways like
attracting a mate, attracting prey, deterring predators, and in hunting and
with that humans are beginning to understand the significance of
Scientists have only begun to further discover and implement useful tools
that can be used in curing and tracing the path of disease, in analyzing
cellular dynamics, and to continue to improve the inexplicable quality of
human life.
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Chapel Hill, NC: University of Carolina at Chapel Hill.
[email protected]/397899023/

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