How Studying Bioluminescent Creatures Is Transforming Medical Science
by Jill Langlois/Smithsonian.com
When Cassius Stevani saw blue light emanating from the fallen branches in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, he knew it couldn’t be coming from the bioluminescent mushrooms he was collecting. The University of São Paulo biochemist was working on a study of bioluminescence and photochemistry—the chemistry of light—when he and a team of researchers discovered Neoceroplatus betaryiensis, a new species of fungus gnat and the first insect in South America to emit blue light.
“It’s an important find for the areas of entomology, ecology, bioluminescence and evolution,” Stevani says.
The larvae of the tiny flying creature, stuck to the branches and trunks of forest trees thanks to their own secreted silk, glowed from their tops and their bottoms, with one light in their last abdominal segment and another two on either side of their first thoracic segment, just under their heads.
The reason the gnats glow is still a mystery, but researchers hope its light continue to help them save lives.
Bioluminescence comes in a range of greens, reds and blues, and it’s caused by a protein called luciferin, often found in marine animals, mushrooms, insects, algae and specific types of bacteria. …..