requirements of their bioluminescent systems
are known to be high, indicative of an origin at
[oxygen] levels corresponding to present-day
values, thus unlike the bacteria and fireflies. So we
must conclude that if some luciferases originated
as a mechanism for oxygen detoxification, the
evidence indicates that this was not so for all.”
The alternative proposed is that another type of
enzyme, a ligase (which bonds t wo big molecules
together), has evolved to become a luciferase.
Yet even researchers supportive of the idea admit:
“How the new oxygenase luminogenic function
originated from AMP-ligases leading to luciferases
is one of the most challenging mysteries of
References and notes
1. Ref. 2 of main text.
2. Wilson, T. and Hastings, J., Bioluminescence: Living Lights,
Lights for Living, Harvard College, p. 132, 2013.
3. Viviani, V.R., The origin, diversity, and structure function
relationships of insect luciferases, Cellular and Molecular
Life Sciences 59( 11):1833–1850, November 2002.
Rather, it is consistent with
the evidence to hold that these
features were specially created,
part of the original design of many
species—some of which may have
subsequently lost such abilities. The
astonishing breadth of variation
within bioluminescence mechanisms
is a testimony to the creativity of the
Creator, and is intentional, rather than
References and notes
1. Many earlier papers claimed c. 90%
efficiency, but more recent research
indicates it’s less than half that. See
Ando, Y. et al., Firefly bioluminescence
quantum yield and colour change by
pH-sensitive green emission, Nature
44–47, 2008 | doi: 10.1038/
nphoton.2007.251. See also comment
in the same issue, Ugarova, N.N.,
Bioluminescence: Fireflies revisited, pp.
8–9 | doi: 10.1038/nphoton.2007.259.
2. Haddock, S.H.D. et al.,
Bioluminescence in the Sea, Annual
Review of Marine Science 2:443–493,
2010 | doi: 10.1146/annurev-
3. Out of the darkness, ABC Science, 16
4. Glowing Mushrooms Use
Bioluminescence to Attract Insects
… , BioQuick News, 20 March 20,
5. Burgess, S., Added beauty of the
peacock tail and the problems with
the theory of sexual selection, J.
6. Branham, M. A. and Wenzel, J. W., The
origin of photic behavior and the
evolution of sexual communication
in fireflies. Cladistics
2003 | doi: 10.1111/j.1096-0031.2003.
7. Nguyen, T., Firefly’s Flash Can Bring
Sex or Death,
8. Davis, M., Sparks, J.S., and Smith W.L.,
Repeated and Widespread Evolution
of Bioluminescence in Marine Fishes,
11( 6): e0155154 | doi: 10.1371/
9. Judson, O., Luminous Life,
Right: Spider catching a firefly,
which often keeps glowing in the web.
Martin Tampier lives in Terrebonne, Quebec
(Canada) with his wife and son. He is a
professional engineer and energy consultant
and technical writer. He is also a hobby
photographer fascinated by insects.