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Light used for instant signaling: comb jellies


Comb rows of comb jelly, Mertensia ovum / NOAA Photo G.. / LicensePD - Public Domain

An enzyme called photoprotein in comb jellies produces light when calcium changes the enzyme's shape, releasing energy.

"In a firefly bioluminescence reaction, an enzyme known as a luciferase uses adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to activate a molecule called a luciferin. The product of this reaction combines with molecular oxygen to produce an excited-state oxyluciferin species. When oxyluciferin relaxes back to its ground state, energy is released in the form of light…Jellyfish-like animals called ctenophores—can do without [ATP to jump-start bioluminescence]. Instead, they use a luciferin of intrinsically higher energy and prepackage it with oxygen in an enzyme known as a photoprotein. Calcium activates the reaction by changing the shape of the photoprotein, which releases the invested energy in the form of light." (Pepling 2006)
About the inspiring organism
Med_lightrefractsof_combrows_of_ctenophore_mertensia_ovum_2 Ctenophora
Common name: Comb jelly

Learn more at
Organism/taxonomy data provided by:
Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2008 Annual Checklist

Bioinspired products and application ideas

Application Ideas: Biological imaging (tracking tumor growth), food safety (pathogen bacteria contain ATP that can kick-start the firefly bioluminescence reaction, allowing rapid and highly sensitive detection of bacterial contamination in food), underwater emergencies (automatic lighting of life vests, or exit routes in submerged planes or boats when batteries don't function).

Industrial Sector(s) interested in this strategy: Medical, Food, Emergency response

Pepling, Rachel Sheremeta. 2006. All That Glows: Bioluminescence provides practical applications while still remaining a mystery. Chemical & Engineering News. 84(14): 36-38.
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