What Is Bioluminescence?


Introduction: What is Bioluminescence?

You may have seen the sparkle of fireflies on a summer’s night. The fireflies produce light through a chemical reaction in their abdomens, a process known as Bioluminescence. But did you know that seas can also glow and glitter?

Bioluminescence is the production and emission of light by a living organism. Most bioluminescent organisms are found in the ocean. These bioluminescent marine species include fish, bacteria, and jellies. Some bioluminescent organisms, including fireflies and fungi, are found on land.

Bioluminescence: How does it work?

The light emitted by a bioluminescent organism is produced by energy released from chemical reactions occurring inside the organism. This light can be produced by the organisms themselves or via symbiotic bacterial strains. Bioluminescence results from a chemical reaction that occurs between a light-emitting molecule termed luciferin and an enzyme called luciferase.

Jervis Bay Bioluminescence Bioluminescence is the production and emission of light by a living organism, in this case algae that when disturbed glows blue. This occurs at various but limited locations around the world.
Photographer: Trevor McKinnon | Source: Unsplash

Bioluminescence is an adaptation for most of the marine organisms that help them survive better in their habitat.Some fish dangle a lighted lure in front of their mouths to attract prey, while some squid shoots out the bioluminescent liquid, instead of ink, to confuse their predators. Worms and tiny crustaceans also use bioluminescence to attract mates.

Importance of Bioluminescence

Now, let’s take a look at how bioluminescence helped humans.

A close up photo of luminescent corals at the Cairns aquarium.
Photographer: David Clode | Source: Unsplash

Throughout history, humans have devised ingenious ways of using bioluminescence to their advantage. Glowing fungi has been used by tribes to light the way through dense jungles, for example, while fireflies were used by miners as an early safety lamp. Perhaps inspired by these applications, researchers are now again turning to bioluminescence as a potential form of green energy. In the not so distant future, our traditional street lamps may be replaced by glowing trees and buildings.


Today, bioluminescence from a particular species of bacteria is used to monitor water toxicity. When exposed to pollutants, the light output from the bacterial culture decreases, signalling the possible presence of a contaminant.

Seen at the aquarium that is in the hotel, Atlantis The Palm, situated on The Palm, the man-made island in Dubai that is shaped like a palm tree and its fronds.  Atlantis is situated on the top curve of the island.
Photographer: Nick Fewings | Source: Unsplash

The evolutionary process that culminated in bioluminescence may have taken millions of years, but its scientific applications continue to revolutionize our modern world. Now you can think of this, the next time you see the sea sparkle.