Bioluminescence – Part 1

This month, I would like to start a new series featuring organisms that have the ability to glow. Some of these organisms are pretty crazy. But let’s begin with a common one. Fireflies are probably the most familiar of all the illuminating organisms. They employ light-generating organs called photophores. Here’s how they work. A chemical reaction occurs inside the photophore using some common chemicals, mixed with a typical cellular “fuel molecule” called ATP. But then the beetle adds the chemical luciferin and the enzyme luciferase. This bioluminescent enzyme is what produces the light. Like an LED bulb, it is a very efficient cold light. Fireflies (aka lightning bugs) use particular flash patterns to identify other members of their species and choose preferred mates. Faster and brighter patterns seem to be the most popular with female fireflies. How could a complex system like this ever evolve? How would a very specific enzyme like luciferase come along and then find its way into a photophore? It would be selected against as superfluous long before all the pieces came together for such a complex chemical process!

Posted on May 2, 2020 by dwoetzel.

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