What Is The Difference Between Bioluminescence And Fluorescence?


Last Updated on July 13, 2021 by Ephraim Iyodo

Bioluminescence and fluorescence are scientific phenomena concerned with emission of light,

Bioluminescence is the production and emission of light by a living organism. It is a kind of chemiluminescence. Bioluminescence is prevalent in marine vertebrates and invertebrates, as well as in some fungi, microorganisms, including some bioluminescent bacteria, and terrestrial arthropods such as fireflies.

Fluorescence, on the other hand, is the emission of light by a substance that has absorbed light or other electromagnetic radiation. It is a form of luminescence. In most cases, the emitted light has a longer wavelength and therefore less energy than the absorbed radiation.

Bioluminescence vs Fluorescence


Bioluminescence is caused by chemical reactions within living things.

Bioluminescence is a chemical process in which an enzyme breaks down a substrate, and one of the products of this reaction is light.

glowing mushroom

The basic chemical reaction in bioluminescence involves a light-emitting molecule and an enzyme, usually called luciferin and luciferase, respectively.

The enzyme luciferase catalyzes the oxidation of luciferin. In some species, luciferase requires other cofactors, such as calcium or magnesium ions and sometimes an energy-carrying adenosine triphosphate (ATP) molecule.

There is little evolutionary variation in luciferins: one, in particular, coelenterazine, is found in 11 different animal phylogenetic groups, although some of the animals get it through their diet. In contrast, luciferases vary widely among different species, providing evidence that bioluminescence has occurred more than 40 times in evolutionary history.

Luciferin is a compound that actually produces light. In a chemical reaction, luciferin is called a substrate. The bioluminescent color (yellow in fireflies, greenish in lanternflies) is the result of the arrangement of luciferin molecules.

Some bioluminescent organisms produce (synthesize) luciferin themselves. Dinoflagellates, for example, bioluminescence in a bluish-green color. Bioluminescent dinoflagellates are a type of plankton, tiny marine organisms that sometimes make the ocean surface glow at night.

Some bioluminescent organisms do not synthesize luciferin. Instead, they absorb it through other organisms, either as food or as part of a symbiotic relationship.

For example, some species of minnow fish obtain luciferin through the “seed shrimp” they consume. Many marine animals, such as squids, contain bioluminescent bacteria in their light organs. Bacteria and squid are in a symbiotic relationship.

Luciferase is an enzyme. An enzyme is a chemical substance (called a catalyst) that interacts with a substrate and affects the rate of a chemical reaction.

When luciferase interacts with oxidized (with the addition of oxygen) luciferin, a byproduct called oxyluciferin is formed. More importantly, the chemical reaction produces light.

Bioluminescent dinoflagellates produce light via the luciferin-luciferase reaction. The luciferase found in dinoflagellates is linked to the green chemical chlorophyll present in plants.

Bioluminescent dinoflagellate ecosystems are rare, mostly forming in warm-water lagoons with narrow access to the open sea. Bioluminescent dinoflagellates congregate in these lagoons or bays, and the narrow opening prevents them from escaping.

Most bioluminescent reactions involve luciferin and luciferase. However, some reactions occur without the enzyme (luciferase). These reactions involve a chemical called a photoprotein. The photoproteins combine with luciferin and oxygen, but they need another agent, often the element calcium ion, to produce light.

The use of bioluminescence by animals includes antiluminescence masking, imitating other animals, e.g. to attract prey, and signaling other individuals of the same species, e.g. to attract mates.

In the laboratory, luciferase-based systems are used in genetic engineering and biomedical research. Researchers are also exploring the use of bioluminescent systems for street and decorative lighting, and a bioluminescent plant has been created.

Biologists and engineers are studying the chemicals and conditions associated with bioluminescence to see how people can use the process to make life easier and safer.

Green fluorescent protein (GFP), for example, is a valuable “reporter gene. Reporter genes are chemicals (genes) that biologists attach to other genes they are studying.

GFP reporter genes are easily identified and measured, usually by their fluorescence. This allows scientists to monitor and control the activity of the gene being studied — its expression in the cell or its interaction with other chemicals.

Other uses are more experimental. For example, bioluminescent trees could help major streets and highways. This would reduce the need for electricity.

Bioluminescent crops and other plants could glow when they need water or other nutrients, or when they are ready to harvest. This would reduce costs for farmers and agribusinesses.


led lamps

Fluorescence is a physical process in which light energizes electrons in a fluorophore to a higher energy state, and when the electron falls back to its ground state, it emits a photon.

Fluorescence is a member of the omnipresent family of luminescence processes in which susceptible molecules emit light from electron-excited states created by either a physical (e.g., light absorption), mechanical (friction), or chemical mechanism.

The generation of luminescence by excitation of a molecule by photons of ultraviolet or visible light is a phenomenon called photoluminescence, which is formally divided into two categories, fluorescence and phosphorescence, depending on the electronic configuration of the excited state and the emission path.

Fluorescence is the property of certain atoms and molecules to absorb light at a certain wavelength and subsequently emit light at a longer wavelength after a short period of time, called the lifetime of the fluorescence.

The process of phosphorescence occurs similarly to fluorescence, but with a much longer lifetime of the excited state.

Fluorescence usually occurs when the absorbed radiation is in the ultraviolet region of the spectrum and thus invisible to the human eye, while the emitted light is in the visible region, which gives the fluorescent material a distinct color that can only be seen when exposed to ultraviolet light.

Fluorescent materials stop glowing almost immediately after the source of radiation ceases, unlike phosphorescent materials, which continue to emit light for some time.

Fluorescence is also often found in nature in some minerals and in many biological forms in all kingdoms of life. It is sometimes called biofluorescence to show that the fluorophore comes from a living organism. However, in many cases, a substance can be fluorescent even if the organism is dead.

Fluorescence has many useful applications, including mineralogy, gemmology, medicine, chemical sensors (fluorescence spectroscopy), fluorescent labeling, dyes, biological detectors, cosmic ray detection, vacuum fluorescent displays, and cathode ray tubes.

The most common everyday application is in energy-saving fluorescent and LED lamps, where fluorescent coatings are used to convert short-wave ultraviolet or blue light into long-wave yellow light, thereby mimicking the warm light of energy-saving incandescent bulbs.

Comparison Chart

Comparison Bioluminescence Fluorescence
Definition Bioluminescence is the emission of light through the use of energy released via a chemical reaction. Fluorescence is the result of light-induced excited state electrons (energy supplied via absorption of excitation light) which subsequently decay to their ground states. This decay releases energy in the form of photons (light).
Reaction Bioluminescent reactions involve luciferin molecules and luciferase enzyme. Luminescence occurs  when molecules emit light(photon) from high energy states.
Wavelength Bioluminescent light is emitted in wavelengths between 400 and 720 nm from violet into the near-infrared.

Bioluminescent marine organisms emit blue light at 410–550 nm

Fluorophores absorb a range of wavelengths of light energy, and also emit a range of wavelengths. Within these ranges are the excitation maximum and the emission maximum.
Material Medium Living things with enzyme Luciferase Mainly at high energy states with release of photon at decay.
Occurrence in nature Its most common occurence is biologically through fireflies Fluorescence is often found in nature in some minerals and in many biological forms in all forms of life, as long as the fluorophore comes from a living organism.
Uses Animals use bioluminescence as camouflage and to imitate other animals Fluorescence is used in energy saving fluorescent lamps
Ephraim Iyodo 3 weeks 0 Answers 355 views -2

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