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Bioluminescence, and the Mystery of Light Production

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Bioluminescence Introduction On a recent holiday to Jamaica, the peoples' love of Bob Marley was all too apparent. However, if you scratch under the surface of the reggae music, a natural phenomenon can be seen. In the waters offshore a little harbour town called Falmouth, bioluminescence occurs. When I went to Falmouth to have a look at bioluminescence, it was quite dark - it was 6 pm, but from standing on the dock it appeared that the lagoon was like any other I have seen, the water looked no different to normal and there was nothing out-of-the-ordinary. However, when we got into the boat and left the dock behind us, the bioluminescence quickly showed itself. There was a distinct "neon-like" glow to the water which had been disturbed by the boat, especially the wake behind us. Any fish in the water could be seen to be glowing, and if you put your hand out and held it into the water when you take it back out again you could see that glowing too. ...read more.


These micro-organisms are dinoflagellates, which are eukaryotic algae. They have a different nucleus to the nuclei in humans, called a dinokaryon. The chromosomes, instead of its DNA being wrapped around histones, are instead attached to the nuclear membrane, remaining condensed throughout interphase, not just in mitosis. Instead of reproducing sexually, however, they primarily reproduce by binary fission, where the cell first replicated the DNA, then directly splits into two daughter cells. This occurs very quickly, and the rate of mutations is also much higher. The two daughter cells then produce a dinocyst, which then, via meiosis, starts to form new haploid daughter cells. This micro-organism is not the only organism to be able to emit light. But for every (micro-) organism which can, there is normally a reason for it to have remained in the species (otherwise according to Darwin other, more advantageous mutations would have raced on ahead, leaving it behind). ...read more.


The process releases very little heat, which means that the process is virtually hundred per cent efficient. In most bioluminescent organisms, the oxidisable molecule luciferin and its corresponding enzyme luciferase are needed. This first became apparent in 1885-1887, when it was observed that extracts (incidentally) from fireflies (Pyrophorus) from the West Indies gave a light-emitting reaction when they were mixed together. One extract which was prepared contained luciferase (in cold water) which was unstable in hot water. Another contained luciferin, which was found to be stable in hot water. This suggested that bioluminescent were luciferin-luciferase reactions. In these firefly, adenoside triphosphate (ATP) reacts with the luciferase, magnesium ions and luciferin to form a luciferase-luciferyl-adenylate complex, with some phyrophospate. The complex then reacts with oxygen (in the water) to convert the energy ground state from a low-energy state to a high-energy state. The complex then tries to return to the low-energy state by emitting a photon of light. This, in principle, is how light, not just light in bioluminescence, is produced. ?? ?? ?? ?? G.Price 1 ...read more.

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