A Worm Species Mate in a Bioluminescent Swarm and Scientists Found the Enzyme Responsible


In a new study, scientists from the American Museum of Natural History found which enzymes are responsible for an incredible phenomenon involving fireworms. We are talking about a mating display that is characterized by incredible bioluminescence and the Bermuda fireworms, the species that feature this display are apparently unique among other bioluminescent animals.

What causes this unique glow?

This study shows that there are some enzymes that allow these worms to resemble fireflies, although the process is entirely different. Odontosyllis enopla – the Bermuda fireworm – inhabits the Carribean and it was first discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Columbus described observing a flame that resembles a small candle raised and lowered.

Until 1930 nobody was able to explain this process. The phenomenon happens only during autumn and summer, it lasts 22 minutes and it begins after sunset on the third night after the full Moon. Female fireworms use it to attract males and the bright blueish-green light doesn’t fail in its mission.

How does it happen?

The scientists still can’t believe the accuracy with which they follow the exact time each year. Female worms which usually rest on the bottom begin to swim upwards, quickly forming tight little circles and they start to glow. It looks like a field of stars on the blackness of the water.

Then, the males are immediately drawn in as they begin to swim towards the females as they start to glow as well. When they meet, they release their gametes in the water, causing an explosion of light to happen.

How can this be explained?

A team of scientists began to analyze the RNA of female fireworms and they came across a unique luciferase enzyme. Apparently, there are many such enzymes scattered among the tree of life. However the one present in the Bermuda fireworms is truly one of a kind.


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