Stimulated bioluminescence in dinoflagellates

Article highlighted by the Physical Review Letters' cover.

Bioluminescence is a phenomenon observed in numerous marine organisms and has several functions (communication, defense …). Dinoflagellates are single-celled eukaryotes found in aquatic environments. Their bioluminescence is observed at night and is stimulated by mechanical disturbance triggered for instance by boats or waves.

The biochemical process that controls light production is well established. It consists in the oxidation of luciferins, light-emitting molecules, following molecular exchanges through the ion channels of the cytoplasmic membrane. However the relation between the mechanical disturbance in the surrounding flow and the production of bioluminescence is not clear.

A researcher from the Physics Institute of Nice has collaborated with a group of the University of Cambridge (UK) to design an original setup that isolates single organisms and stimulates them at the microscopic scale, either by jet flow or direct contact.
The researchers have shown a viscoelastic response with a light production that depends on both the deformation amplitude and rate of the cytoplasmic membrane. The global process includes three mechanisms and is characterized by three time scales: the relaxation time of the membrane deformation in addition to the actuation and reset times of the biochemical reaction.

Figure caption: Bioluminescence in Pyrocystis lunula. The dinoflagellate is held on a micropipette (bottom). A second micropipette (top) produces a jet flow that triggers bioluminescence.


Reference :

Stress-Induced Dinoflagellate Bioluminescence at the Single Cell Level.

Maziyar Jalaal, Nico Schramma, Antoine Dode, Hélène de Maleprade, Christophe Raufaste, and Raymond E. Goldstein.

Physical Review Letters, le 6 juillet 2020.


Contact :

Christophe Raufaste,


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