Explanation for glowing seas suggested
It has long been known that distinctive blue flashes--a type of bioluminescence--that are visible at night in some marine environments are caused by tiny, unicellular plankton known as dinoflagellates. However, a new study has, for the first time, detailed the potential mechanism for this bioluminesence. The study, which was partially funded by the National Science Foundation, is reported by Susan Smith of Emory School of Medicine, Thomas DeCoursey of Rush University Medical Center and colleagues in the Oct. 17, 2011 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
A key aspect of the potential mechanism for bioluminescence in dinoflagellates proposed in the PNAS study involves voltage-gated proton channels--channels in membranes that can be opened or closed by chemical or electrical events.
J. Woodland Hastings, a member of the Smith and DeCoursey research team and an author of the PNAS article, suggested the presence of voltage-gated proton channels in dinoflagellates almost forty years ago. But the Smith and Decoursey team only recently confirmed them by the identification and subsequent testing of dinoflagellate genes that are similar to genes for voltage-gated proton channels that had previously been identified in humans, mice and sea squirts.
According to the study, here is how the light-generating process in dinoflagellates may work: As dinoflagellates float, mechanical stimulation generated by the movement of surrounding water sends electrical impulses around an internal compartment within the organism, called a vacuole--which holds an abundance of protons. These electrical impulses open so-called voltage-sensitive proton channels that connect the vacuole to tiny pockets dotting the vacuole membrane, known as scintillons.
Once opened, the voltage-sensitive proton channels may funnel protons from the vacuole into the scintillons. Protons entering the scintillons then activate luciferase--a protein, which produces flashes of light, that is stored in scintillons. Flashes of light produced by resulting luciferase activation would be most visible during blooms of dinoflagellates.
This research illuminates the novel mechanisms underlying a beautiful natural phenomenon in our oceans, and enhances our understanding of dinoflagellates--some of which can produce toxins that are harmful to the environment.
Source: National Science Foundation
- Scripps scientists see the light in bizarre bioluminescent snailTue, 14 Dec 2010, 21:01:22 EST
- Scripps scientists help decode mysterious green glow of the seaWed, 1 Apr 2009, 14:37:04 EDT
- Prodigal plankton species makes first known migration from Pacific to Atlantic via PoleSun, 26 Jun 2011, 22:33:45 EDT
- Tiny MIT ecosystem may shed light on climate changeMon, 15 Dec 2008, 11:23:23 EST
- 1 sleepless night increases dopamine in the human brainTue, 19 Aug 2008, 17:35:47 EDT
- Bioluminescence: Explanation for glowing seas suggestedfrom Science DailyWed, 19 Oct 2011, 20:32:15 EDT
Latest Science NewsletterGet the latest and most popular science news articles of the week in your Inbox! It's free!
Learn more about
Check out our next project, Biology.Net
From other science news sites
Popular science news articles
No popular news yet
No popular news yet
- Stem cell transplant restores memory, learning in mice
- 2 landmark studies report on success of using image-guided brachytherapy to treat cervical cancer
- Calculating tsunami risk for the US East Coast
- Researchers discover mushrooms can provide as much vitamin D as supplements
- Cutting back on sleep harms blood vessel function and breathing control