Danish researchers look to harness bioluminescent algae to light cities

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In Denmark, two researchers at the Technical University of Denmark are working to understand algae’s bioluminescent pathway with the hopes of using the material to provide city lighting.

When disturbed, marine plankton release the luciferase enzyme, which binds to luciferin. Energy is then transferred via oxidation and a blue light is emitted in the process.

DTU associate professor Henrik Toft Simonsen and graduate student Kristian Ejlsted are working to be the first to develop a synthetic pathway to luciferin.

“Bioluminescent algae are the first stage in the development of biological light,” the researchers wrote in an article in ScienceNordic. “But there are some clear challenges when using algae in a lamp.” The first challenge is how to coax the release of luciferase without disturbing the algae.  “To produce biological lamps that can illuminate throughout the night without movement means that we need to think along entirely new lines,” Simonsen and Ejlsted write. They aim to overcome this by transferring the genes responsible for light emission and transfer them into other photosynthetic organisms.