Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Nature's glowing slime: Scientists peek into hidden sea worm's light

Date:
November 13, 2013
Source:
University of California - San Diego
Summary:
Scientists are unraveling the mechanisms behind a little-known marine worm that produces a dazzling bioluminescent display in the form of puffs of blue light released into seawater. Found around the world in muddy environments, from shallow bays to deeper canyons, the light produced by the "parchment tube worm" is secreted as a slimy bioluminescent mucus.

A full-body fluorescence image of the parchment tube worm.
Credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego

Scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and their colleagues are unraveling the mechanisms behind a little-known marine worm that produces a dazzling bioluminescent display in the form of puffs of blue light released into seawater.

Found around the world in muddy environments, from shallow bays to deeper canyons, the light produced by the Chaetopterus marine worm—commonly known as the “parchment tube worm” due to the opaque, cocoon-like cylinders where it makes its home—is secreted as a slimy bioluminescent mucus.

The mucus, which the worms are able to secrete out of any part of their body, hasn’t been studied by scientists in more than 50 years. But two recent studies have helped reignite the quest to decode the inner workings of the worm’s bioluminescence.

In one study, published in the journal Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, Scripps Associate Research Scientist Dimitri Deheyn and his colleagues at Georgetown University describe details of Chaetopterus’s light production as never before. Through data derived from experiments conducted inside Scripps Oceanography’s Experimental Aquarium, the researchers characterized specific features of the worm’s light, tracing back its generation to a specific “photoprotein” tied to bioluminescence.

“The fact that the light is produced as a long glow without direct oxygen consumption is attractive for a range of future biotechnological applications,” added Deheyn, whose current work focuses on identifying the specific protein(s) involved in the light production.

The present study, however, focused on the general biochemistry and optical properties of the light production. “We have shown that the mucus produces a long-lasting glow of blue light, which is unique for this environment where bioluminescence is usually produced as short-lived flashes of light in the green spectrum, especially for benthic (seafloor) species,” said Deheyn, who added that green travels farthest and is therefore the easiest to detect in shallow coastal environments.

As for the light’s ecological function, the researchers speculate that the luminous mucus may serve as a trap to attract prey, a deterrent to ward off certain unwelcome guests into the worm’s living areas (the glowing mucus could stick to an intruder, making it more visible to its own predators), or possibly serve as a substance to build the worms’ flaky, tube-shaped homes.

The blue color makes it intriguing and difficult to reconcile with a visual function for shallow animals only.

“However, one can imagine that blue light would work better if the predator is a fish coming from greater depths, or for specific predators for which we still don’t know the visual sensitivity,” concluded Deheyn.

In a separate study, Deheyn and his colleagues at Connecticut College found that riboflavin, known as vitamin B2 and used widely as a dietary supplement, is a key source of the light production. The study appearing in Photochemistry and Photobiology focused on worms collected by Scripps Marine Collector and Technician Phil Zerofski in the La Jolla submarine canyon off the coast of San Diego, California. The research revealed riboflavin as the major fluorescent compound in all extracts of the worm’s luminescent material, including the glowing slime. Although more investigation is needed, the authors hypothesize that a derivative of riboflavin serves as the emitting force in the worm’s light-production process.

The authors note that the worms are not able to produce riboflavin on their own—only plants and microbes can—therefore the worms must acquire the vitamin through a food source, the same way humans do.

“We have shown that the bioluminescent light production involves riboflavin, which is key because it means that the worm is relying on an external source,” said Deheyn. “We suggest the light production depends on the worm’s diet, yet it could also involve a symbiosis with bacteria (possibly living in the tube) to provide the riboflavin.”

Further investigations are targeting intricacies of the chemical reactions behind the light production and methods to synthesize the light production in the laboratory.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - San Diego. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Dimitri D. Deheyn, Laura A. Enzor, Andrew Dubowitz, Jeffrey S. Urbach, Daniel Blair. Optical and Physicochemical Characterization of the Luminous Mucous Secreted by the Marine Worm Chaetopterus sp.. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, November 2013

Cite This Page:

University of California - San Diego. "Nature's glowing slime: Scientists peek into hidden sea worm's light." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 November 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131113152607.htm>.
University of California - San Diego. (2013, November 13). Nature's glowing slime: Scientists peek into hidden sea worm's light. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131113152607.htm
University of California - San Diego. "Nature's glowing slime: Scientists peek into hidden sea worm's light." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131113152607.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Visitors Feel Part of the Pack at Wolf Preserve

Visitors Feel Part of the Pack at Wolf Preserve

AP (July 31, 2014) — Seacrest Wolf Preserve on the northern Florida panhandle allows more than 10,000 visitors each year to get up close and personal with Arctic and British Columbian Wolves. (July 31) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Florida Panther Rebound Upsets Ranchers

Florida Panther Rebound Upsets Ranchers

AP (July 31, 2014) — With Florida's panther population rebounding, some ranchers complain the protected predators are once again killing their calves. (July 31) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida

Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida

AP (July 31, 2014) — Sarasota County, Florida health officials have issued a warning against eating raw oysters and exposing open wounds to coastal and inland waters after a dangerous bacteria killed one person and made another sick. (July 31) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

AP (July 30, 2014) — Thousands of people are trekking to a Bavarian farmer's field to check out a mysterious set of crop circles. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:  

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile iPhone Android Web
      Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins