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Daniel Para Soto, Jace Baptista-Allan, Marcus Yeung

Mechanism of Action & Applications

Bioluminescence is an occurrence that has developed in many creatures, including bacteria, fungi, insects, and even some marine animals. Bioluminescence serves various purposes, including those related to communication, attraction, camouflage, and defense, and it has sparked both scientific and popular interest.

Bioluminescence is present in various situations, from the deep sea to terrestrial ecosystems. It is especially prevalent in marine organisms, where up to 80% of species are thought to be able to create light. Various ocean depths are home to bioluminescent species, some of which can emit a brilliant glow that can be seen from the surface. An example is the anglerfish, which employs a modified dorsal fin ray to entice food.


Although the exact mechanism of bioluminescence varies between different animals, it often entails an oxygen-assisted interaction between a substrate molecule and an enzyme called luciferase (pictured). The reaction produces light and a byproduct that the organism can use or excrete. Depending on the organism, the substrate molecule can vary, ranging from aequorin in jellyfish (pictured) to luciferin in fireflies. Depending on the kind of luciferin and the reaction's circumstances, the light's color and intensity can also change.


There are numerous possible uses for bioluminescence in both science and business. By marking biological processes with the luciferase enzyme, bioluminescence can be utilized in medicine to examine biological processes, including gene expression and protein interactions. Bioluminescence imaging (BLI) is a method that can offer non-invasive, real-time information about how cells and tissues function. Luciferase-labeled tumor cells can be tracked and monitored in vivo using BLI (pictured), and luciferase-labeled neurons can be visualized in living animals for use in neuroscience and cancer research. 


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