To capture the insects’ lovely glow, a research team led by Mathew Maye used nanotechnology to manipulate the process by which the bugs produce natural light, or bioluminescence.
Fireflies glow thanks to a chemical reaction between luciferin and the enzyme luciferase. In the lab, scientists attached the enzyme to a nanorod and later added luciferin, which acted as fuel for the light-up process. When the two components interacted, the energy released was transferred to the nanorods, causing them to glow.
The team calls the process Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer (BRET).
For the researchers, the trick was to alter the size and structure of the nanorods perfectly in order to replicate the fireflies’ glowing process. By manipulating the size and shape of the nanorods, which were made from semiconductor metals, the scientists were also able to produce green, orange and red light as well as infrared illumination.
While the firefly light is currently only being produced in the lab (or in the great outdoors), the manufactured-glow could someday be useful to consumers. Once the team figures out how to sustain the chemical reaction for longer periods of time, scientists say the lightning bug glow could eventually replace LEDs and perhaps provide consumers with Christmas lights that don’t need to be plugged into the wall.
"The nanorods are made of the same materials used in computer chips, solar panels and LED lights," Maye said in a statement. "It's conceivable that someday firefly-coated nanorods could be inserted into LED-type lights that you don't have to plug in."
[via SU News]
Image: Syracuse University