A team of researchers led by scientists from the American Museum of Natural History has released the first report of widespread biofluorescence in the tree of life of fishes, identifying more than 180 species that glow in a wide range of colors and patterns. Published today in PLOS ONE, the research shows that biofluorescencea phenomenon by which organisms absorb light, transform it, and eject it as a different coloris common and variable among marine fish species, indicating its potential use in communication and mating. The report opens the door for the discovery of new fluorescent proteins that could be used in biomedical research.
"We've long known about biofluorescence underwater in organisms like corals, jellyfish, and even in land animals like butterflies and parrots, but fish biofluorescence has been reported in only a few research publications," said co-lead author John Sparks, a curator in the Museum's Department of Ichthyology. "This paper is the first to look at the wide distribution of biofluorescence across fishes, and it opens up a number of new research areas."
Unlike the full-color environment that humans and other terrestrial animals inhabit, fishes live in a world that is predominantly blue because, with depth, water quickly absorbs the majority of the visible light spectrum. In recent years, the research team has discovered that many fishes absorb the remaining blue light and re-emit it in neon greens, reds, and oranges.
"By designing scientific lighting that mimics the ocean's light along with cameras that can capture the animals' fluorescent light, we can now catch a glimpse of this hidden biofluorescent universe," said co-lead author David Gruber, an associate professor of biology at Baruch College and a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History. "Many shallow reef inhabitants and fish have the capabilities to detect fluorescent light and may be using biofluorescence in similar fashions
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American Museum of Natural History