Bioluminescent plants: Nature’s Own Light Show

Bioluminescent plants: Nature’s Own Light Show

Have you ever wondered if plants could glow in the dark? Well, bioluminescent plants do just that! Nature has always amazed us with its incredible beauty and mysteries. Bioluminescent plants are one of them. These special plants have a secret power – they can produce their own light! But do they do so?

This natural light show of plants (and even microbes like bacteria!) is something that grabs our attention and fills us with awe. In this article, you will get to uncover the magic behind bioluminescent plants and see how they create this enchanting glow!

So, let’s start from the core- how is it possible for plants to produce light?

The Science Behind Bioluminescence

bioluminescent island
Bioluminescent island

The natural light that plants produce, which amuses us, is called bioluminescence. But what is Bioluminescence?

According to National Geographic, “Bioluminescence is light emitted by living things through chemical reactions in their bodies.’’

This means, some chemical reaction occurs inside the body of plants, or microbes, which when emitted outside produce light, and are observed by us as a glowing substance. Amazing thing, right?

But there is a huge science behind this light emission, i.e. bioluminescence. Let’s know them in a brief and simple way.

How Bioluminescence takes place?

To understand the backbone of bioluminescence, you have to keep in mind 3 important factors of it.

  • Luciferase- is an enzyme that causes a special type of reaction in bioluminescent plants, animals, or microorganisms. Luciferase is primarily responsible for producing natural light emission from organisms i.e. bioluminescence.
  • Luciferin- is a light-emitting pigment found in bioluminescent organisms. It plays a critical role in the process of bioluminescence, contributing to the radiant glow that these organisms emit.
  • Light cells or Photocytes: The term “photocytes” is derived from the words “photo,” meaning light, and “cytes,” meaning cells. Photocytes are specialized cells found in bioluminescent organisms, including certain plants, animals, and microorganisms. These cells are responsible for producing and emitting light through a biochemical reaction involving enzymes and pigments.
Luciferin chemical formula
Luciferin chemical formula: Nature chemistry

Process of Bioluminescence in Plants

In bioluminescent plants or organisms, light cells or photocytes are present. This cell is like a tiny factory that makes light.

Inside this cell, a special molecule called luciferin is present. When luciferase and luciferin are combined, that means reacting together, they produce an excited molecule. Now if oxygen is present there, this excited molecule reacts with the oxygen and releases energy in the form of light!

Remember, without oxygen, this energy release wouldn’t occur. So, the magical glow that characterizes bioluminescence wouldn’t be possible.

Bioluminescent Plants

We have already talked about bioluminescence- how it is produced and to whom. Now, can you tell me which plants we can tag as Bioluminescent?

What are bioluminescent plants?

Bioluminescent plants are a rare and extraordinary subset of flora in the world. They possess the remarkable ability to emit light from their body. As a result, bioluminescent plants are seen to be glowing at night, like fireflies!

Unlike the gentle warmth of sunlight or the harsh glare of artificial illumination, the light produced by bioluminescent plants has an ethereal quality, creating an enchanting, almost magical, ambiance.

Bioluminescent fungi
Bioluminescent fungi

Now, we will explore if you can grow a bioluminescent plant at home or not. But before that. Let’s understand first if bioluminescence is good for these plants, or bad!

5 Benefits of Bioluminescence in Plants

1. Attraction of Pollinators and seed dispersers

Bioluminescent plants can emit a gentle glow on the dark nights. This feature attracts other animals to them easily.  Pollinators like moths, beetles, mosquitoes, flies, and other insects, are attracted to the emitted light. These insects aid in the pollination process and contribute to plant reproduction. Some of them also help plants in the distribution of seeds to new areas, though unknowingly.

Mothes attracted to light
Mothes attracted to light

2. Defense Mechanism and camouflage

Some bioluminescent plants use their glow as a defense mechanism. When threatened, they can emit bursts of light to startle predators and potentially deter them.

Bioluminescent patterns also help in camouflage by matching the surrounding light conditions. Thus they can make themselves less conspicuous to predators.

3. Energy Efficiency

Bioluminescence consumes less energy compared to other forms of light production. This efficiency can be advantageous in resource-limited environments. Scientists are working to make the best use of this resource!

4. Symbiotic Relationships

Some bioluminescent plants form symbiotic relationships with fungi. The light emitted by the plants can attract insects, which then help disperse fungal spores.

5. Ecological Interactions

The presence of bioluminescent plants can have amazing effects throughout the ecosystem. As insects are attracted to the light, they, in turn, become a vital food source for nocturnal predators. It will help in maintaining a delicate balance in the food chain.

How to grow bioluminescent plant?

Scientists are working day and night to catch the way of bioluminescent and make it available for people. If you search for methodologies, you will find some scattered information about growing a bioluminescent plant at your own. Mostly, ”grow your own bioluminescent algae” is now talk of the town.

This is not to disappoint you, but to be honest, these are not the best way that you should practice at home. It will just kill your valuable time, and that’s it.

But no worries! We hope the advanced research works will make some way for bioluminescent plant enthusiasts. Days are not so far. We will update this write up if something like that happens.

Bioluminescent Plankton

Bioluminescent plankton are microscopic marine organisms. They have the remarkable ability to produce and emit light within their bodies. This natural phenomenon, known as bioluminescence, allows these plankton to create a stunning display of light in the ocean!

bioluminescent island
Bioluminescence in the ocean

Bioluminescent plankton are often found in various parts of the ocean. They are inhabitants of the surface waters mostly.

These planktons play a significant role in marine ecosystems. When a predator disturbs the water where these plankton are present, they emit light, creating a burst of luminous blue or green color. This sudden flash of light can startle predators and potentially reveal the presence of the predator to other larger creatures nearby.

Additionally, bioluminescent plankton can attract smaller organisms towards them. Many animals come forward to the light, assuming it to be a potential source of food. This can lead to an interesting interplay of interactions in the ocean’s food web.

6 Example of Bioluminescent Planktons

There are not uncountable number of such planktons those can emit light. Hence, the number of bioluminescent plankton are not so few also.

Here are the name of some bioluminescent planktons, with  authorized reference.

  1. Dinoflagellates

Source: “Bioluminescence in Dinoflagellates: Diversity and Distribution” by Hastings, J. W. (1983) in Bioluminescence and Chemiluminescence: Basic Chemistry and Analytical Applications.

Source: Bioluminescence in Dinoflagellates- Martha Valiadi (available on Researchgate)

2. Noctiluca scintillans (Sea Sparkle):

Source: “Phytoplankton Bioluminescence: Widespread Occurrence in the Coastal Dark Ocean” by Miller, S. D., Haddock, S. H. D., & Elvidge, C. D. (2005) in Geophysical Research Letters.

3. Pyrocystis fusiformis:

Source: “Bioluminescence in the Dinoflagellate Pyrocystis: A Biphasic Decay Kinetics and Extracellular Luciferase” by Nealson, K. H., & Hastings, J. W. (1979) in the Journal of Bacteriology.

Source: ”Bioluminescence and the Pelagic Visual Environment” by Edith A. Widder ((available on Researchgate)

4. Gonyaulax polyedra:

Source: “Bioluminescence of the California Dinoflagellate Gonyaulax polyedra: Characterization of the Emission Spectra and the Effects of Environmental Factors” by Miller, S. D., Haddock, S. H. D., & Elvidge, C. D. (2005) in Limnology and Oceanography.

5.  Emiliania huxleyi (a coccolithophore):

Source: “Bioluminescence in Emiliania huxleyi Revisited: Quantification of Extracted and Filtered Light” by Lohrmann, C., & John, U. (2009) in Luminescence.

6. Ctenophores (Comb Jellies):

Source: “Bioluminescence in Ctenophores (Comb Jellies)” by Widder, E. A. (2010) in Integrative and Comparative Biology.

Tarek Siddiki Taki

Hi! This is Tarek Siddiki Taki, a plant science graduate, passionate about biotechnologies and their role in addressing environmental issues. I aim to contribute to the advancement of plant science, particularly in horticulture, climate, and gene behavior. I am dedicated to sharing my knowledge and insights with others through my writing and research.