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article imageThe secret of glow-in-the-dark mushrooms

By Tim Sandle     May 1, 2017 in Science
Moscow - There are mushrooms that appear magical, due to their ability to glow-in-the-dark rather than hallucinogenic properties. The American Association for the Advancement of Science has got to the bottom of how this process works.
It’s an interesting research question: what makes bioluminescent mushrooms glow? Answering this is not simply for scientific interest, could open up new ways to harness fungal bioluminescence for next generation analytical and imaging technologies.
The phenomenon of bioluminescence occurs with a wide range of organisms. Bioluminescence refers to the production and emission of light by a living organism. It is a type of chemiluminescence. The process occurs through a light-emitting pigment called luciferin and the enzyme luciferase. Many animals use bioluminescence for camouflage.
All round there are some 80 different known species of bioluminescent fungi, scattered across the planet. With these fungi, they each emit green light. However there are variations since the fungal luciferase can use different substrates leading to changes in intensity and color of emission.
Through detailed analysis scientists now understand what makes bioluminescent mushrooms glow. Fungi use the same mechanism as animals: when the molecule luciferin and its enzyme partner, luciferase, come together with energy and atmospheric oxygen, this triggers a chemical reaction which produces an "excited" molecule called oxyluciferi. This molecule releases light energy in order to "calm down" to its ground state. However, the precise pathway that the fungi use has never been clear.
To explore this mechanism Professor Zinaida Kaskova, from the Russian Academy of Sciences, has broken-down the molecular components involved in the fungal luciferin-luciferase pathway. This analysis has led to the discovery of the fungal variant of oxyluciferin. This has come about by styudng extracts of a Brazilian fungus called Neonothopanus gardneri, together with another fungus called Neonothopanus nambi (a poisonous mushroom found in the rainforests of southern Vietnam).
It is hoped the new research will lead to the harnessing fungal bioluminescence to aid analytical and imaging technologies. The illuminating research findings have been published in the journal Science Advances. The paper that sheds light on the issue is titled “Mechanism and color modulation of fungal bioluminescence.”
More about Magic mushrooms, bioluminescence, Mushrooms, Biology
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