This time of year, fireflies light up the sky at dusk, and they’re a beautiful sight! But it turns out that these little guys are even more amazing than they look, especially when you study the science behind the chemical reaction that creates the familiar yellow-green glow.
In fireflies, a chemical called luciferin reacts with ATP, and when exposed to oxygen, light is released. Scientists are trying to understand the intermediate steps to this reaction in order to better understand the mechanisms behind bioluminescence.
ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is an energy-transporting molecule that is present in all living cells. ATP bioluminescence assays were developed to measure the amount of organic materials present, which can indicate the cleanliness of a surface. ATP testing is used in hospitals and laboratories to determine the effectiveness of sanitization procedures. The amount of light produced indicates how much ATP is present, which tells scientists how clean a surface is.
Pretty cool. The science behind a firefly’s glow and the science behind a novel sanitization approach have a lot in common. Understanding bioluminescence in fireflies can also potentially help researchers understand the mechanisms behind bioluminescence in other animals. Did you know that fireflies were so amazing?
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