Bioluminescence in marine fishes has evolved more times than previously hypothesized

Bioluminescence is emission of light from an organism which it either produces or is produced by bacteria on them. In the research recently published in the open access journal PlosOne on June8, 2016, researchers from United States present their first investigation on evolution and distribution of bioluminescence across ray-finned fishes in phylogenetic concept. The research entails new understanding that bioluminescence has evolved more times than previously hypothesized under various survey studies.

Bioluminescence is produced as a result of a chemical reaction between a substrate called luciferin and an enzyme named luciferase which results in the visible photon. In ray-finned fishes, the structures leading to bioluminescence are used for defence mechanism, camouflage, predation and even during communication. Researchers from St. Cloud State University, American Museum of Natural History and University of Kansas investigated 27 groups across 14 major lineages of ray-finned fishes to understand the evolutionary events of bioluminescence.


Ancestral-Character Evolution of Bioluminescence in Sixteen Major Lineages of Fishes: Each rectange includes 500 individual reconstructions across this distribution of 500 phylogenetic trees. Blue indicates the presence of bioluminescence and black indicates absence. Courtesy: PlosOne

Researchers inferred the phylogenetic relationships from nuclear as well as mitochondrial gene fragments. Some genetic information was reviewed from GenBank sequences to infer the maximum likelihood. The results identified that 785 species exhibit intrinsic bioluminescence among 1510 known species, which is more than half. Some bacteria exhibit bioluminescence under symbiotic association with fishes and that too was identified to be 17 times more than previously identified, representing around 48% of all bioluminescent fishes.

The researchers in conclusion said that bioluminescence have evolved 29 times in vertebrates alone. This significant increase was found exclusively in fishes only in marine environments. They infer that there is still a lot to be discovered regarding potential impacts of bioluminescence.

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