Discovery by Brno scientists may lead to more sustainable lighting

A team of scientists from Brno has announced a unique discovery that could contribute to an innovative and sustainable way of lighting in the future, possibly even replacing electric light bulbs. The results of their study, based on the inner mechanisms of a bioluminescent sea coral, was published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Catalysis.

More than four decades ago, scientists discovered that organisms living at the bottom of the ocean are able to produce light thanks to a glowing enzyme called luciferase. Until now, however, it has not been clear how the mechanism works.

Scientists from Loschmidt Laboratories, RECETOX and the Faculty of Science at the Masaryk University in Brno, who have been studying luciferase isolated from the sea pansy called Renilla reniformis, have now come up with an answer.

Martin Marek, one of the authors of the research, says the complex process can be best described as putting wooden logs into a stove:

“Burning wood generates both thermal and luminous energy. You could liken it to luciferases, which are like tiny nanomachines or proteins that bind small organic molecules called luciferins.

“They bind these inside themselves and chemically transform them. The molecule can only get rid of the excess energy by emitting visible light.”

Photo: Masaryk University Brno

According to Martin Marek, something like this has been worked with in laboratories for decades. However, the recent discovery could finally enable scientists to construct a living organism that behaves exactly as they want and need it to.

One practical benefit of their finding could be more sustainable lighting. Unlike a conventional light bulb, which releases heat, luciferases can convert energy into light much more efficiently.

Petr Neugebauer from the Brno University of Technology compares it to a firefly or LEDs, which also need no wires or connection, and yet they shine:

“The conventional incandescent bulb, where you produce light but also a lot of heat, has been replaced by LEDs, which are much more efficient in terms of input energy. In this case, it’s the same thing, but the efficiency, the light production is increased even more.”

The question for scientists now is how long the enzyme can keep the light on uninterrupted. In laboratory conditions it kept the tube lit for a maximum of 48 hours.

Scientists must first unravel the pathways that lead to the formation of luciferins, followed by their recycling in cells. Only then could they create an energy-independent light source.

Illustrative photo: Henryk Niestrój,  Pixabay,  Pixabay License

However, they are keeping their hopes high, says Martin Marek from Loschmidt Laboratories, who has high hopes that luciferase could one day replace street lamps:

“Using synthetic biology methods, it is possible today to create trees to provide lighting for our streets. Advertising banners in cities can be filled with algae that emit light of different colours. Everyone has houseplants at home and a lamp by the bed. In the future, a plant could actually replace the lamp.”