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The secrets of bioluminescent, glow-in-the-dark mushrooms

As children, many of us would stare in amazement at glow sticks, wondering how this phenomenon was even possible. Certain scientists have been doing the same thing for years, except they’ve been staring at bioluminescent mushrooms.

Recently, researcher Zinaida Kaskova and her team uncovered the molecular components involved in these glow-in-the-dark mushrooms, paving the way for future progress in using fungal bioluminescence for analytical and imaging technologies.

Bioluminescence doesn’t just exist in mushrooms; it’s spread across a wide variety of organisms. Scientists have found about 80 separate species of bioluminescent fungi alone.

This incredible light emission from these organisms is possible because of a molecule called luciferin and the enzyme luciferase. They both combine with energy and atmospheric oxygen, which causes a chemical reaction that produces an excited state oxyluciferin. This molecule releases light energy in order to get back to its ground state – triggering the bioluminescence observable in these fungi.

This luciferin-luciferase pathway has been extensively studied in bioluminescent insects, bacteria, and some marine animals – but never in fungi. Kaskova and her team discovered the molecular components involved in the fungal luciferin-luciferase pathway, leading to them also finding the fungal equivalent of oxyluciferin.

The researchers believe that this fungal luciferase could be “promiscuous,” meaning it is able to interact with multiple versions of fungal luciferin, which allows for changes in intensity and the color of bioluminescent emission.

Although revealing, these findings don’t mean all the mystery is gone from the study of bioluminescent organisms. Further research could uncover more about the molecular processes and their evolution within specific organisms, as well as lead to advances in bioluminescent technologies.

By Connor Ertz, Staff Writer

Source: American Association for the Advancement of Science

Image Credit: Cassius V. Stevani/IQ-USP, Brazil

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