Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Nature’s Glowing Slime: Scientists Peek into Hidden Sea Worm’s Light

14.11.2013
Clouds of bioluminescent mucus—emitted by a marine worm that lives in a cocoon-like habitat —are linked to a common vitamin

Scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and their colleagues are unraveling the mechanisms behind a little-known marine worm that produces a dazzling bioluminescent display in the form of puffs of blue light released into seawater.


A full-body fluorescence image of the parchment tube worm.

Found around the world in muddy environments, from shallow bays to deeper canyons, the light produced by the Chaetopterus marine worm—commonly known as the “parchment tube worm” due to the opaque, cocoon-like cylinders where it makes its home—is secreted as a slimy bioluminescent mucus.

The mucus, which the worms are able to secrete out of any part of their body, hasn’t been studied by scientists in more than 50 years. But two recent studies have helped reignite the quest to decode the inner workings of the worm’s bioluminescence.

In one study, published in the journal Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, Scripps Associate Research Scientist Dimitri Deheyn and his colleagues at Georgetown University describe details of Chaetopterus’s light production as never before. Through data derived from experiments conducted inside Scripps Oceanography’s Experimental Aquarium, the researchers characterized specific features of the worm’s light, tracing back its generation to a specific “photoprotein” tied to bioluminescence.

“The fact that the light is produced as a long glow without direct oxygen consumption is attractive for a range of future biotechnological applications,” added Deheyn, whose current work focuses on identifying the specific protein(s) involved in the light production.

The present study, however, focused on the general biochemistry and optical properties of the light production. “We have shown that the mucus produces a long-lasting glow of blue light, which is unique for this environment where bioluminescence is usually produced as short-lived flashes of light in the green spectrum, especially for benthic (seafloor) species,” said Deheyn, who added that green travels farthest and is therefore the easiest to detect in shallow coastal environments.

As for the light’s ecological function, the researchers speculate that the luminous mucus may serve as a trap to attract prey, a deterrent to ward off certain unwelcome guests into the worm’s living areas (the glowing mucus could stick to an intruder, making it more visible to its own predators), or possibly serve as a substance to build the worms’ flaky, tube-shaped homes.

The blue color makes it intriguing and difficult to reconcile with a visual function for shallow animals only.

“However, one can imagine that blue light would work better if the predator is a fish coming from greater depths, or for specific predators for which we still don’t know the visual sensitivity,” concluded Deheyn.

In a separate study, Deheyn and his colleagues at Connecticut College found that riboflavin, known as vitamin B2 and used widely as a dietary supplement, is a key source of the light production. The study appearing in Photochemistry and Photobiology focused on worms collected by Scripps Marine Collector and Technician Phil Zerofski in the La Jolla submarine canyon off the coast of San Diego, California. The research revealed riboflavin as the major fluorescent compound in all extracts of the worm’s luminescent material, including the glowing slime. Although more investigation is needed, the authors hypothesize that a derivative of riboflavin serves as the emitting force in the worm’s light-production process.

The authors note that the worms are not able to produce riboflavin on their own—only plants and microbes can—therefore the worms must acquire the vitamin through a food source, the same way humans do.

“We have shown that the bioluminescent light production involves riboflavin, which is key because it means that the worm is relying on an external source,” said Deheyn. “We suggest the light production depends on the worm’s diet, yet it could also involve a symbiosis with bacteria (possibly living in the tube) to provide the riboflavin.”

Further investigations are targeting intricacies of the chemical reactions behind the light production and methods to synthesize the light production in the laboratory.

The Air Force Office of Scientific Research’s Natural Materials, Systems, and Extremophiles Program and the Hans & Ella McCollum ’21 Vahlteich Endowment supported the research.

About Scripps Institution of Oceanography Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, is one of the oldest, largest, and most important centers for global science research and education in the world. Now in its second century of discovery, the scientific scope of the institution has grown to include biological, physical, chemical, geological, geophysical, and atmospheric studies of the earth as a system. Hundreds of research programs covering a wide range of scientific areas are under way today on every continent and in every ocean. The institution has a staff of about 1,400 and annual expenditures of approximately $170 million from federal, state, and private sources. Scripps operates robotic networks and one of the largest U.S. academic fleets with four oceanographic research ships and one research platform for worldwide exploration. Birch Aquarium at Scripps serves as the interpretive center of the institution and showcases Scripps research and a diverse array of marine life through exhibits and programming for more than 425,000 visitors each year. Learn more at scripps.ucsd.edu.

Mario Aguilera | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.scripps.ucsd.edu
http://www.ucsd.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity
22.09.2017 | DFG-Forschungszentrum für Regenerative Therapien TU Dresden

nachricht The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet
22.09.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biochemie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet

Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.

A warming planet

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity

22.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Penn first in world to treat patient with new radiation technology

22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering

Calculating quietness

22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>