Before the development of the safety lamp for use in coal mines, dried fish skins were used in Britain and Europe as a weak source of light
Bioluminescence is a form of luminescence, or “cold light” emission by living organisms; less than 20% of the light generates thermal radiation. It should not be confused with iridescence, structural coloration, phosphorescence.
By etymology, bioluminescence is a hybrid word, originating from the Greek bios for “living” and the Latin lumen “light”.
Bioluminescence is a form of chemiluminescence where light energy is released by a chemical reaction. Fireflies, anglerfish, and other creatures produce the chemicals luciferin (a pigment) and luciferase (an enzyme). The luciferin reacts with oxygen to create light. The luciferase acts as a catalyst to speed up the reaction, which is sometimes mediated by cofactors such as calcium ions or ATP. The chemical reaction can occur either inside or outside the cell. In bacteria, the expression of genes related to bioluminescence is controlled by an operon called the Lux operon.
Bioluminescence occurs widely among some groups of animals, especially in the open sea; in some fungi and bacteria; and in various terrestrial invertebrates including insects. Many, perhaps most deep-sea animals produce light. Most marine light-emission is in the blue and green light spectrum, the wavelengths that pass furthest through seawater. However, some loose-jawed fish emit red and infrared light, and the genusTomopteris emits yellow light. Sometimes thousands of square miles of the ocean shine with the light of bioluminescent bacteria in the “Milky seas effect“.
Non-marine bioluminescence is less widely distributed. The two best-known forms of land bioluminescence are fireflies and glow worms. Other insects, insect larvae, annelids, arachnids and even species of fungi have been noted to possess bioluminescent abilities. Some forms of bioluminescence are brighter (or exist only) at night, following a circadian rhythm.
Bioluminescent organisms are a target for many areas of research. Luciferase systems are widely used in the field of genetic engineering as reporter genes. Luciferase systems have also been harnessed for biomedical research usingbioluminescence imaging. Vibrio symbiosis with numerous marine invertebrates and fish, namely the Hawaiian Bobtail Squid (Euprymna scolopes), are key experimental models for bioluminescence.
The structures of photophores, the light producing organs in bioluminescent organisms, are being investigated byindustrial designers. Engineered bioluminescence could perhaps one day be used to reduce the need for street lighting, or for decorative purposes.
The gene that makes firefly‘s tails glow has been added to mustard plants. The plants glow faintly for an hour when touched, but a sensitive camera is needed to see the glow
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