Bioluminescencesimply the ability of organisms to produce light on their ownis a widespread phenomenon. Jellyfish and fireflies might be the most familiar bioluminescent creatures, but organisms from bacteria to fungi to insects and fish make their own glow through a variety of chemical processes.
Bioluminescent fungi have been well-known for centuries, from the bright orange and poisonous jack o' lantern mushrooms to the phenomenon known as "foxfire," where the nutrient-sipping threads of the honey mushroom give off a faint but eerie glow in rotten logs. Glowing fungi have captured the imagination of cultures around the world, Desjardin said. "People are mostly afraid of them, calling them 'ghost mushrooms.'"
But how does a fungus make its glowand why would it glow in the first place? It's a question that has fascinated Desjardin for some time.
Researchers believe that the fungi make light in the same way that a firefly does, through a chemical mix of a luciferin compound and a luciferase. Luciferase is an enzyme that aids the interaction among luciferin, oxygen and water to produce a new compound that emits light.
But scientists haven't yet identified the luciferin and luciferase in fungi. "They glow 24 hours a day, as long as water and oxygen are available," Desjardin explained. "But animals only produce this light in spurts. This tells us that the chemical that is acted upon by the enzyme in mushrooms has to be readily available and abundant."
The why behind the glow also remains mostly a mystery. In mushrooms where the spore-bearing part glows, some scientists think the light may help attract insects that can help disperse the spores to grow new m
|Contact: Nan Broadbent|
San Francisco State University