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Bioluminescence

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Definition

noun

The production and emission of light by an organism; the capability of an organism to produce and emit light through chemical means


Supplement

Some organisms are capable of producing and emitting light. This capability or phenomenon of producing and emitting light is called bioluminescence. The organisms capable of this are described as bioluminescent. One of the most well-known bioluminescent organisms is the firefly.

Fireflies emit light chemically at their lower abdomen. The light that they emit is from 510 to 670 nm in wavelength. As adults, they emit light to help them attract mates. They use light to communicate with their potential mates during courtship; they flash, glow steadily, etc. They also use light to lure prey. As larvae, they emit light as a warning signal that they are unpleasant to taste due to the chemicals that they produce. Their bioluminescence is associated with the enzyme luciferase acting on the luciferin in the presence of magnesium ions, ATP, and oxygen.

Other organisms capable of bioluminescence include jellyfish Aequorea victoria, certain species of algae (e.g. dinoflagellates), and certain species of fungi (e.g. honey fungus, dripping bonnet, etc.).

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Related term(s):

  • bioluminescent (adjective)