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  • Writer's pictureRiver Valley Student Editorial Club

Enchanted Night: The Allure of Bioluminescent Creatures

Lim Jun Chuan (23J08)

During the school holidays, my family and I went to Australia for a vacation. There, I encountered many different forms of wildlife, from jellyfish to glowflies. One common pattern I had observed was that these animals glowed! This led me to research more about these animals to unravel the mysteries and marvels of nature's own light show.

Have you ever wondered how some creatures in the deep, dark ocean are able to create their own light? It's a fascinating phenomenon called bioluminescence, and it's like these marine animals have their little “built-in flashlight”. If you prefer all things  'science-y', bioluminescence is the ability of living organisms to produce light through chemical reactions. Many creatures in the ocean, from tiny plankton to large squids and fish, use this natural light to communicate, camouflage, or attract prey. Let's dive deeper into the enchanting world of bioluminescence and discover some of its amazing features!

Picture of bioluminescent sea algae

At the heart of bioluminescence are special molecules called luciferins and enzymes called luciferases. When these molecules react with oxygen, they produce light without creating any heat. This process is highly efficient and allows organisms to emit light with minimal energy loss.

What a complex molecule!

Found in dark caves and forests across Australia, glow worms are not actually worms but the larvae of fungus gnats. They form a mesmerising display by emitting a soft blue-green light from their tail-end to attract small insects for food. Visiting a glow worm cave is like stepping into a starlit underground world, where thousands of tiny lights liven up the darkness. Although I could not get a clear picture of these worms, here is a picture I found online:

                                                  Australia glow worm cave

During my nighttime visit to the beaches of Australia, I was mesmerised by another captivating display of bioluminescence: jellyfish! These graceful and ethereal creatures emit a soft light that resemble a Milky Way on Earth. Specialised cells, known as photocytes, are responsible for this luminescent dance, entrancing onlookers and enchanting the marine environment. 

These bioluminescent jellyfish put on a dazzling light show under the waves, whether attracting mates or warding off predators. Their transparent bodies produce rainbow-like flashes of light, turning them into living jewels that shimmer in the sea's dark depths.

Picture of jellyfish

Since I visited Australia during the summer, I got to encounter another one of these bioluminescent creatures — fireflies! In glorious sprinkles of light, these fireflies illuminate meadows and forests. An interesting fact I learnt was that each species has its own flashing pattern, a language used for courtship, communication, and identification. Watching them dance and flicker together was a beautiful reminder of nature's harmonious rhythms.

Picture of fireflies

Beyond the spectacle it creates, bioluminescence plays a vital role in advancing scientific understanding and technological innovation. Bioluminescent proteins, such as the green fluorescent protein (GFP) derived from jellyfish, have revolutionised biomedical research by allowing scientists to track cellular processes and gene expression with unparalleled precision.

Bioluminescent assays find practical applications in environmental monitoring, pollution detection, and ecosystem health assessment, showcasing the practical benefits of nature's light-emitting wonders.

Using GFP to identify cancer cells

Bioluminescence is a captivating natural phenomenon that illuminates the beauty and complexity of life in our oceans and forests. From glowing fireflies to shimmering jellyfish, these light-producing organisms remind us of the awe-inspiring diversity of the natural world. 

So, the next time you gaze at the stars or walk along the beach at night, remember the glowing creatures that light up our world in their own magical way. I hope that you will be able to encounter these creatures someday…

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