Popular Accounts of Bioluminescence

The following represents an incomplete list of popular accounts relating to marine bioluminescence.

  • An art exhibition called CARBON 12 featured bioluminescence artwork from a collaboration between artist Erika Blumenfeld, and marine biologist Michael Latz, highlighting the abstract beauty of dinoflagellate bioluminescence. Online articles by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and New Scientist showed some of the artwork. The exhibition was sponsored by the British environmental organization Cape Farewell and was shown at the Espace Fondation EDF in Paris, France between May 4 and September 16, 2012.
  • In the MGM movie Three Guys Named Mike, Van Johnson as research scientist and Jane Wyman as stewardess are hovered over a glowing flask (watch it on YouTube).
    ” Professor, what is it?
    Living bacteria; it’s called bioluminescence, isn’t it pretty?
    It’s beautiful. Would you mind explaining it to me?
    What I’m doing is an experiment with intensity, which varies in proportion to the velocity of reaction of the oxidative enzyme luciferase accompanied by luciferin, which is its substrate.
    I must have missed something.
    Alright let me explain it another way. Bioluminescence is a cold light…”
  • The book Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger relates the story how as a carrier-based pilot facing instrument failure, Lovell relied on the luminescent wake of the aircraft carrier to locate the ship. ” Down below him… he noticed a faint greenish glow forming a shimmery trail in the black water…. He was certain he knew what the strange radiance was: a cloud of phosphorescent algae churned into luminosity by the screws of a cruising carrier. Pilots knew that a spinning propeller could light up organisms in the water, and this could help them locate a missing ship.”
  • The bestseller Deception Point by Dan Brown mentions bioluminescence:
    “All around him in the water… [he] saw tiny glowing specks of light. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.”
    Did you know that dinoflagellate bioluminescence plays a crucial point in the story development?
  • The Pixar movie Finding Nemo features bioluminescence. Marlin and Dori escape from a ferocious and very agile anglerfish that is using its bioluminescence as a flashlight. Actually anglerfish are ambush predators. Their light originates from symbiotic bacteria living at the end of a long stalk. They wait for prey to come to them, attracted by their glowing lure.
  • The Paramount movie Sahara, starring Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz, mentions a luminescent clam. As their characters stroll through a market, MM stops at a shell stand and picks up an angel wing clam, Peatricola pholadiformis. He explains to PC that they glow in the dark, and “modern science cannot explain why.” His theory? “They do it because they can.” Turns out Peatricola pholadiformis really is the angel wing clam, but it is not luminescent nor does it live in freshwater. However, there are no freshwater luminescent clams, but there is a freshwater limpet (another type of mollusc) named Latia neritoides, but it lives in Australia and Asia. There is a luminescent marine clam named Pholas dactylus, known as the common piddock, which bores into rock and produces green light. Its bioluminescence was known in Roman times, where it was a source of culinary entertainment during clam feasts held in the dark. Eat the clam and you would end up with green glowing lips!
  • The characters in the New Line Cinema movie Journey to the Center of the Earth, starring Brendan Fraser, encounter a strange light spectacle: “They’re birds. Electric birds? They look like Cyanis rosopteryx. Only they’re bioluminescent, like fireflies or glowworms. It’s incredible.” Was there ever a bird called Cyanis rosopteryx? Nope they made that up, but there is the blue tit Cyanistes, a common bird found in temperate climates. Are there bioluminescent birds? None that have been scientifically verified, but there are reports of glowing barn owls, which may be the origin of dancing night lights known as Will o’ the Wisp in England and Min Min Light in Australia.
  • The movie Life of Pi by Fox 2000 Pictures has a spectacular nighttime scene that shows bioluminescence.

Did you know?

  • In November 1918 the last German U-boat (submarine) sunk during World War I was detected from its bioluminescent wake.