Stories tagged bioluminescence


The glow is gone: A glowing lake in Puerto Rico has mysteriously gone dark in the past week. Scientists are trying to figure out why the lake has changed its night time behavior.
The glow is gone: A glowing lake in Puerto Rico has mysteriously gone dark in the past week. Scientists are trying to figure out why the lake has changed its night time behavior.Courtesy Ocean Island Travel
For the past eight days, a glowing lake in Puerto Rico has gone dark, puzzling scientists and tourism officials alike.

Construction on a new sewage treatment plant nearby has stopped as researchers are trying to figure out why the Fajardo Grand Lagoon at the Nature Reserve of Las Cabezas de San Juan in Puerto Rico has suddenly lost its glow. The lake, informally referred to as a lagoon, has long been a popular tourist stop at night. Kayakers have been able to cruise the waters and see the glow of bioluminescent microorganisms in the water. The creatures give off a glow when disturbed by a passing paddle or waving hand.

While some worry run off from the treatment plant under construction might be the cause of the darkness, others point to recent rains and high winds creating waves on the lake. In the short term, researchers are hoping to minimize as many factors as possible to be able to zero in on the cause.

A local group also collects water samples from the lake three times a week to record data including temperature, salinity and precipitation. That data will also be analyzed in this current study.

The lake also went nearly dark for a short time in 2003, but had since rebounded to it's original levels of glow.

So what do you think is happening in the lake to make it go dark? Share your ideas with other Science Buzz readers in the comments section.


Glowing Trees
Glowing TreesCourtesy This image, which was originally posted to Flickr, was uploaded to Commons using Flickr upload bot on 09:48, 21 July 2008 (UTC) by Manoillon (talk). On that date it was licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
Bioluminescence. Think fireflies. Or anglerfish. Or your friendly neighborhood boulevard tree. Wha? Yep. Recently the Royal Society of Chemistry published (and gave their royal thumbs-up to) Dr. Yen-Hsun Wu’s paper in which he describes eliminating the need for energy-sapping streetlights by injecting trees with gold nanoshells.

According to inhabitat (design will save the world):

By implanting the gold nanoparticles into the leaves of the Bacopa caroliniana plants, the scientists were able to induce the chlorophyll in the leaves to produce a red emission. Under a high wavelength of ultraviolet light, the gold nanoparticles were able to produce a blue-violet fluorescence to trigger a red emission in the surrounding chlorophyll.

Popular Science is just as psyched:

This ingenious triple threat of an idea could simultaneously reduce carbon emissions, cut electricity costs and reduce light pollution, without sacrificing the safety that streetlights bring.

Creepy? Cool? You decide.


I am invisible: And thinking about eating you.
I am invisible: And thinking about eating you.Courtesy Etrusko25
You could be attacked from above at any second. By a shark. Because they are invisible. And you can’t see invisible things. So they can easily attack you.

I mean, you’re not going to get attacked by just any shark. But, really, if there’s an invisible shark hovering above you, about to attack, does it matter what kind of shark it is? That’s like a squirrel wondering if the car that’s about to force its digestive tract out through its lowermost orifice is a Ford or a Toyota. Let’s be practical here.

If you must know, the shark is called a “velvet bellied lantern shark.” (Coincidentally, if you replace “shark” with “head” you have my childhood nickname.)

But the important part, again, is that it can turn invisible.

It’s not quite up to Harry Potter levels, at least—the shark is only invisible from below, thanks to its velvety lantern belly. See, if you’re a weak little prey species flopping pathetically around the ocean (I assume you are), if you see a dark shadow pass overhead, you want to flop pathetically toward some cover, because dark shadows often come from things that can eat you. Like a shark! The underside of this shark, however, is covered with light-producing organs, called photophores, which shine at the same frequencies as the sunlight that filters through the water. That, of course, tricks the other little fishies (and you) into thinking that the shark isn’t there.

It’s more than a little concerning, isn’t it? Don’t worry, though. I’ve been working on a product for just this sort of problem, and I think it’s about ready. It’s an invisible-shark detecting stick. It actually looks a lot like a wooden yardstick, and you can even use it for measuring things up to one yard long, but it’s really meant for keeping you safe from invisible sharks. You use it by holding it above your head at all times. If you feel a pressure on the stick, just look up. If you see a doorway, or a broken light fixture or ceiling fan, you’re probably safe. But if you look up and see only a familiar comforting glow, you should dive for cover. Or, if you carry a firearm, you should shoot wildly into the air above you. Shark crisis averted.

They’re $30. Email me.


Black light magic

Fluorescent minerals: Click "hgrobe" link for mineral identification
Fluorescent minerals: Click "hgrobe" link for mineral identificationCourtesy hgrobe
Last week, while volunteering at Collector's Corner at the Science Museum of Minnesota, a visitor asked me if we had a black light. I explained that black lights worked best in black (dark) rooms so we put our black light in a black box. By holding minerals under the black light within the black box, one can sometimes see colors not visible when viewed normally.

The beautiful colors seen are a result of fluorescence. Fluorescence happens when electrons absorb energy from the high energy light and re-emit light of a lower, visible wavelength. Black lights get their name because the ultraviolet light from them is invisible. It has a lot of energy, though. Too much exposure to ultraviolet light will result in sunburn or eye damage.

Fluorescence is useful in research

Fluorescent cells: Bovine pulmonary arthery endothelial cells
Fluorescent cells: Bovine pulmonary arthery endothelial cellsCourtesy U S Govt
Fluorescence allows tracking or analysis of biological molecules. By attaching variously colored "tags", beautiful and useful images are allowing scientists to better understand what is happening, and where. In this image of endothelial cells, nuclei are stained blue with DAPI, microtubles are marked green by an antibody and actin filaments are labeled red with phalloidin. Last year the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Osamu Shimomura, Martin Chalfie and Roger Tsien for their work with fluorescence.

More fluorescence fun

I just saw a BoingBoing post about fluorescence. Click the link to see more, but I embedded one of the You Tube videos below.

Tonic water fluorescence


Don't like the face?: Wait until you see the rectal pouch.
Don't like the face?: Wait until you see the rectal pouch.Courtesy Brauer, A.
Welcome to another edition of “Add it to the list!” Buzzketeers. Or… is this the first edition? It feels like “Add it to the list!” has been a regular feature on Buzz for a couple years now, but, then again, I’ve been suffering from frequent and vivid waking dreams lately. So I might not be the best judge of what “actually exists” (to quote my therapists) right now.


As you possibly know, here on “Add it to the list!” we feature an animal, theory, vegetable, etc. that disgusts me or blows my mind. Such objects and constructs must be added to the list. That way I can keep mental tabs on them. And when the revolution comes, I’ll be able to sort all listed items into the “first against the wall” and “promotions all around” categories with confidence.

Previous items on the list (which may or may not have been featured on Buzz, and may or may not be featured in the future) include electric eels (tagged “Not actually an eel”), hagfish (tagged “Keep your lips off that thing!”), Schrödinger’s Cat (tagged “Please don’t say ‘quantum’ when I’m in the room”), and anglerfish (tagged “nobody wins the battle of the sexes”).

You get the idea, I’m sure.

So what do we learn today? Well, The Telegraph has alerted me to the existence of the barreleye fish. It seems that this singular creature has tubular shaped eyes to gather all available light in its native deep-sea habitat. Do you know what other light-gathering adaptation it has? A freaking see-through head!

OMG! These deep-sea fish! Somebody add that thing to the list!

Check it out:

It was thought that barreleye fish could only stare straight up, so that they might catch the silhouettes of prey swimming above them. Researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, however, have recently observed the fish looking forward. Seeing a fish looking forward is hardly big news, I suppose, but… it’s sort of looking through it’s own head, you know? Yuckers.

Also, some species of barreleye have bioluminescent internal organs (their guts glow). And one species has a glowing rectal pouch.

I’m not sure if this fish is first against the wall, or deserving of a promotion, but, either way it must be recognized and dealt with. So, for glob’s sake, add it to the list!