How Does Bioluminescence Work?


Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
While the effect is similar, bioluminescence is very different than flourescence.  While flourescence is the emission of a photon as a result of the excitation of an electron, bioluminescence is a product of a chemical reaction in an organism.  The basic reaction that occurs which allows the organism to emit light is graphically illustrated at the left.  The oxidation of luciferin catalyzed by the enzyme luciferase results in oxyluciferin and light.  Adenisine triphosphate (ATP) provides the energy to produce the luciferin. (5)  A luciferin is a general term used for compounds that possess light emitting capabilities.  Two of the most popular luciferins are coelenterazine and vargula.  These two compounds and luciferins like them allow for the production of 'cold light' as little to no heat is given off during these reactions. (4)




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