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  • Writer's pictureMaria Rutkowska

Pyrocystis Lunula: the future of bioluminescence?

Recently, I have started participating in a volunteer program, run by Uniwersytet Dzieci. It is a program, which aims to popularise different areas of education to youth aged 6-13. I have become a volunteer for the Genetics workshops at the Centrum Dydaktyczne in Warsaw. During these workshops, I have been able to help out with different experiments, one of them being the breeding of bioluminescent organisms referred to as Pyrocystic Lunula.

Have you ever heard of bioluminesnce? It is the emission of light by living organisms. It has been a topic of discussion since the times of Aristotle, Shakespeare and Darwin. Bioluminesnce is a characteristic of a wide range of organisms, from fish to jellyfish to fungi.

But what properties allow for bioluminescence to occur?

The dinogflagellate’s changes in “intracellular calcium levels produce an action potential, opening voltage-galted proton channels in the membranes of organelles called scintillons, lowering the pH within theme and caused oxidation of the protein luciferin catalysed by the enzyme luciferase”[1] .

Luciferases are part of the oxidative enzymes, which are responsible for the production of bioluminescence; they are usually distinguished from a photoprotein. Photoproteins add to the light-producing reaction, catalyzed by the enzyme luciferase, occurred inside the luciferins. The photoproteins, along with luciferins, are found in bioluminescent organisms.

Various organisms, an example being Pyrocystis Lunula, use the property of bioluminescence to hunt prey, defend against predators and even find mates.[2] Some even use it to confuse attackers, for example, squid flash predators such as fish.

In addition, adult fireflies for instance, are called lighting bugs for a reason - they attract mates by lighting up, using the adaptation of bioluminescence.

But is it possible for humans to be bioluminescent?

Interestingly, to better understand how people may use bioluminescence to make life simpler and safer, biologists and engineers are researching the substances and environmental factors involved in the phenomenon.

An important "reporter gene" is the green fluorescent protein (GFP). Biologists link substances (genes) called reporter genes to other genes they are researching. GFP reporter genes may be quickly recognized and quantified, typically through their fluorescence. This enables researchers to track and keep track of the activity of the gene under study—whether it is expressed in a cell or engages in chemical interactions.

However, humans may actually glow! There has been in a study done in 2009 concerning bioluminescnece in humans. In their investigation, the Tohoku Institute of Technology team said that "the human organism literally glimmers." "The sensitivity of our naked eyes is 1,000 times less sensitive than the intensity of the light released by the body."

The scientists achieved this strange discovery by utilizing extremely sensitive cameras to keep an eye on five healthy male volunteers for 20 minutes every three hours for three consecutive days in a light-tight chamber (in between sleep, of course).They discovered that subjects 'glowed' all day long, with the brightest areas emerging in the late afternoon around the forehead, neck, and cheeks. Late at night, the bioluminescence was at its weakest.

Despite how the photos might suggest otherwise, this wasn't heat-related infrared radiation. These signals originate from photons (light particles) and not heat as it may seem:

With the range of applications, characteristics, and implementations of bioluminescence, it may be the solution to the long-lasting problem regarding electricity demand. Since the demand for electricity is so high, we could use bioluminescent trees as a way to illuminate streets and highways of cities and villages. Crops and other plants may also grow, if bioluminescent. Organisms, such as Pyrocystis Lunula, which are easy to breed may be the future of our cities powered by bioluminescence. It is estimated that in about a decade's time we will be saying bioluminescence being implemented at a larger scope. It may be the solution to many problems, regarding the future.



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