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a fish in a dark room
In the spirit of being Bioluminescence season, we figured we would nerd out on how this phenomenon works!

Bioluminescence is a biochemical process that allows certain organisms to produce and emit light. This fascinating natural phenomenon is typically found in various species of marine life, including jellyfish, fish, and certain types of squid, as well as in some terrestrial animals and insects like fireflies and certain types of fungi.

Here’s how it works:

Chemical reaction: Bioluminescence occurs due to a chemical reaction within the organism. This reaction involves at least two chemicals: a light-emitting molecule (luciferin) and an enzyme that facilitates the reaction (luciferase or photoprotein). Some organisms produce these chemicals themselves, while others acquire them through their diet or symbiotic relationships with luminescent bacteria.

Energy production: When luciferin reacts with oxygen under the influence of luciferase or a photoprotein, energy is produced. The high-energy state of the luciferin molecule is unstable, and in its attempt to return to a lower energy state, it releases a photon—a particle of light.

Light emission: The color of light emitted is generally determined by the structure of the luciferin molecule and can range from blue to green and even to red. The light emitted is almost always in the visible or near-visible spectrum, and is often in the blue-green range as these wavelengths are most effective for underwater transmission. Some organisms, however, are capable of shifting this light towards the red end of the spectrum to better blend into their surroundings or communicate with their species.

Control: The process of bioluminescence is usually controlled by the nervous system of the organism. It’s often used for various purposes, including attracting prey, deterring predators, communicating with other members of the same species, and camouflage.

Efficiency: Importantly, the chemical reaction of bioluminescence is nearly 100% efficient, meaning almost all of the energy produced in the reaction is converted into light and virtually no heat is produced. This makes it a ‘cold light’ and allows bioluminescent organisms to emit light without wasting energy or heating up their surroundings.

While we understand the basic principles of bioluminescence, there is still a lot to learn about this incredible natural phenomenon, especially regarding the vast diversity of bioluminescent organisms in the deep sea.

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