The Science

How bioluminescence works

Bioluminescence occurs when luciferin, any natural, light-emitting compound, is oxidized. The process can be greatly encouraged by introducing a catalytic enzyme, either luciferase or a photoprotein, which continue to work until all the antioxidants in the luciferin have been used. 


The use of luciferase results in an overall prolonged grow while the use of photoproteins creates a flashes of light, proportional to the amount introduced. The difference is due to the photoproteins having a fast catalytics and slow regeneration steps. 


Organisms use bioluminescence to lure prey, attract mates, scare predators, warn friendlies, communicate with others, create distractions, illuminate spaces, and even camouflage. 

Different types of luminescence

Bioluminescence is a type of chemiluminescence where light energy is released by a chemical reaction.  Depending on how an organism evolved in its natural environment, the produced light can be of any color. 


Other forms of luminescence include photoluminescence, the mechanism behind fluorescence where absorbed photons are released, electroluminescence (electric), mechanoluminescence (mechanical), radioluminescence (radiation), and thermoluminescence (thermal). 

Applications in medicine

Bioluminescence has been adopted for use in the medical and research industries in a variety of ways including bioluminescent imaging and bioluminscenct resonance energy transfer. In the prior, neurologists can see individual neurons. And in the latter, protein interactions can be monitored in cells. Other uses include creating molecules to help detect blood clots and track disease transmission.