For most people, bioluminescence is represented by the flash of the firefly or the “phosphorescence” that occurs on agitating the surface of ocean water. Indeed, because of the abundance of material, the firefly’s bioluminescence reaction has received an intensive study with the result that this system is the archetype of the variety of enzymatic processes that produce light in many bioluminescent organisms, ranging from marine bacteria to large luminous beetles from South America. What is usually understood by the term bioluminescence is a cold light emission of high efficiency, which is used by the organism for some survival purpose, although in many cases the purpose may still be conjectural. Also, a growing number of biological reactions have been found to emit light at a very low level, and this low level emission is called “biological chemiluminescence.” This, and the fact that bioluminescence is so widespread among many phyla (although rarely do many members of a phylum possess this property) has led to the suggestion that the ability to produce light arose very early in biochemical evolution, and that the efficient light-production ability was a secondary adaptation of biological chemiluminescence, which enabled the organism to compete more effectively within its biological niche.


Green Fluorescent Protein Chemiluminescence Reaction Luminous Bacterium Photobacterium Phosphoreum Bioluminescence Reaction 
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© Plenum Press, New York 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiochemistryUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA

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