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Some Mushrooms Can Glow In The Dark: Here's Why They Are Luminescent

28 April 2017, 7:53 am EDT By Steve Bowman Tech Times
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Researches have discovered why some mushrooms exhibit bioluminescent characteristics often seen in insects and sea-dwelling creatures. The researchers attributed the glow in some mushrooms to a substance, which emitted light.  ( Sean Gallup | Getty Images )

Bioluminescent mushrooms, an unusual and beautiful sight of nature, have intrigued researchers for years. Scientists have also attempted to unravel the mystery behind why some mushrooms glow in the dark.

A team of researchers from Japan, Russia, and Brazil have finally decoded the mystery of the glow-in-the-dark mushrooms.

In a new research paper, scientists detailed the reason why two mushroom types exhibit bioluminescence. The researchers focused on glow-in-the-dark mushrooms Neonothopanus nimbi and Neonothopanus gardneri found in Vietnam and Brazil, respectively.

Bioluminescence In Living Organisms

Living bioluminescent organisms have fascinated scientists and environmentalists for a long time. In recent years, thorough research has led scientists to understand how and why light emanating from sea-dwelling creatures and insects is important, as well as necessary for their survival.

Till date, researchers have identified more than 70 species of glow-in-the-dark fungi all over the world. However, the process and the importance of bioluminescence in fungi has remained a mystery — until this discovery.

How Does Bioluminescence Occur In Mushrooms?

The new research discovered that bioluminescence occurred in the mushrooms as and when luciferin molecules intermingled with the luciferase enzyme when oxygen was available.

"The luciferin reacts with molecular oxygen, giving a high-energy intermediate (HEI) whose decomposition releases enough energy to produce the emitter oxyluciferin in the singlet electronically excited state. Fluorescence from this excited metabolite results in visible light emission used in nature for signaling and illumination," the researchers wrote in the paper.

The reaction of this interaction results in the production of a substance called oxyluciferin, which emits light. With time, the mushroom releases its own oxygen which changes the luciferin to its ground state.

The repetition of this process in the mushrooms allows them to emanate light in the presence of oxygen. It was also discovered that the luciferase enzyme is not bound to one type of molecule and interacts with a massive number of luciferin molecule derivatives.

The researchers also learned that mushrooms can alter their color if there is a change in the amount of luciferin in the mixture. Researchers suggested that the luciferin — in its synthetic form — can be used in practical human applications such as imaging research. Luciferase enzyme can also work as a reporter gene in genetic research.

Why Mushrooms Emit Light

Prior research has stated that the bioluminescent glow from the mushrooms is a way in which the fungi promotes itself. The light is emanated to attract insects and other microorganisms to distribute the mushroom's spores, helping it reproduce.

The switching on and off of the bioluminescence in mushrooms is not intentional, but is controlled by a circadian clock. This clock works on the basis of temperature changes. This temperature-controlled rhythm allows the mushroom to conserve its energy and lets the fungi emanate light only in the dark, helping insects locate it easily.

The findings of the new study have been published in the journal Science Advances, on Wednesday, April 26.

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