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New publication on the evolution of luciferases - the bioluminescent enzymes...

Bioluminescence – i.e., the emission of visible light by living organisms - is defined as a biochemical reaction involving, at least, a luciferin substrate, an oxygen derivative, and a specialised luciferase enzyme. While this terminology is educatively useful to explain bioluminescence, it gives a false idea that all luminous organisms are using identical or homologous molecular tools to achieve light emission. As usually observed in biology, reality is more complex...

The review article takes stock of the diversity of known “bioluminescent proteins”, their evolution and potential evolutionary origins. A total of 134 luciferase sequences have been investigated (from 75 species and 11 phyla), and the analyses identified 12 distinct types – defined as a group of homologous bioluminescent proteins.

Genes coding for luciferases have potentially emerged as new genes or have been co-opted from ancestral non-luciferase/photoprotein genes. In this latter case, the homologous gene’s co-options may occur independently in phylogenetically distant organisms.

This research, led by Profs. Patrick Flammang (UMONS) and Jérôme Mallefet (BMAR, UCLouvain), aims at a better understanding of the molecular processes hidden behind the natural bioluminescence of living organisms. The intense collaboration between both UMONS and UCL teams started in 2009 and mainly focuses on the study of "Extraocular photoreception" in marine metazoans.

Contact: Jérôme Delroisse (

(Preprint available also here)


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