bioluminescence

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If you were to walk at night through certain forests around the world, you might notice a mushroom glowing green. There are about 80 species of bioluminescent fungi around the globe. Scientists studying two of those species native to Brazil and Vietnam write in the journal Science Advances that they now know the exact chemical reaction that allows fungi to emit light. Turns out, it’s a lot like fireflies.

The chemical reaction involves an enzyme called luciferase (which, depending on how poetic you want to get, can be interpreted as “devil-maker,” or “maker of the light-bringer” or, most accurately, “enzyme that helps a compound called ‘luciferin’ do stuff”).

The enzyme helps luciferin gain oxygen molecules, which excites it. Once it’s excited, luciferin will release light as it returns to its usual, non-excited state. The green light it releases is called “cold light” because there’s almost no heat involved.

There are a lot of different types of luciferin. The one used by these mushrooms, identified in 2015, is different from the others identified in plants and animals. In the lab, the scientists found that the enzyme used by fungi to produce light can be used to make all sorts of colors, not just green.

Fun fact: It’s thought that reactions like these originally came about to get rid of extra, unattached oxygen molecules – in the same way that blueberries are sold as “antioxidants” to help human bodies get rid of free radicals, aka free-floating oxygen atoms.

- Rae Ellen Bichell

Image source: Cassius V. Stevani/IQ-USP, Brazil, Science Advances

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Milky way above Iridescent glowing ocean, El Salvador

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Bioluminescent algae on Pismo beach, California

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7 Underwater Facts for World Oceans Day

Today is World Oceans Day, a global day of ocean celebration and collaboration for a better future. A healthy world ocean is critical to our survival. Together, let’s honor, help protect, and conserve the world’s oceans!

1. While the Earth’s oceans are known as five separate entities, there is really only one ocean.

2. The ocean contains upwards of 99% of the world’s biosphere, that is, the spaces and places where life exists.

Both above GIFs are from the TED-Ed Lesson How big is the ocean? - Scott Gass

Animation by 20 steps

3. Jellyfish are soft because they are 95% water and are mostly made of a translucent gel-like substance called mesoglea. With such delicate bodies, jellyfish rely on thousands of venom-containing stinging cells called cnidocytes for protection and prey capture.

From the TED-Ed Lesson How does a jellyfish sting? - Neosha S Kashef

Animation by Cinematic

4. Plastics & litter that make their way into our oceans are swiftly carried by currents, ultimately winding up in huge circulating ocean systems called gyres. The earth has five gyres that act as gathering points, but the largest of all is known as the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ and has grown so immense that the oceanic garbage patch can shift from around the size of Texas, to something the size of the United States. 

From the TED-Ed Lesson The nurdles’ quest for ocean domination - Kim Preshoff

Animation by Reflective Films

5. The 200 or so species of octopuses are mollusks belonging to the order Cephalopoda, Greek for ‘head-feet’. Those heads contain impressively large brains, with a brain to body ratio similar to that of other intelligent animals, and a complex nervous system with about as many neurons as that of a dog.

From the TED-Ed Lesson Why the octopus brain is so extraordinary - Cláudio L. Guerra

Animation by Cinematic

6. Some lucky animals are naturally endowed with bioluminescence, or the ability to create light. The firefly, the anglerfish, and a few more surprising creatures use this ability in many ways, including survival, hunting, and mating.

From the TED-Ed Lesson The brilliance of bioluminescence - Leslie Kenna

Animation by Cinematic

7. Sea turtles ultimately grow from the size of a dinner plate to that of a dinner table. In the case of the leatherback sea turtle, this can take up to a decade. Happy World Turtle Day!

From the TED-Ed Lesson The survival of the sea turtle - Scott Gass

Animation by Cinematic Sweden

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The Bioluminescence of Pandora by Matt Stemerman
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