Daniel Porter
Jun 15, 2012

Firefly-inspired bioluminescence

Fireflies utilize a relatively well-understood chemical process to produce light -- but they can only glow certain colors. In an upcoming issue of Nano Letters, researchers at Syracuse University describe a novel nanorod-based method that adapts this bioluminescent process to a variety of colors. Fireflies combine the compound luciferin with the enzyme luciferase, producing light. Matthew Maye, assistant professor at SU, attached luciferin molecules to cadmium-based semiconductor nanorods. Now, when the luciferin interacts with the luciferase, instead of producing light directly the energy is transferred to the nanoparticles, which in turn emit light themselves. By varying the composition and length of the rods, SU researchers are able to vary the color of the bioluminescent light. No specific applications are in sight, but the technology promises wide applicability. “The nanorods are made of the same materials used in computer chips, solar panels, and LED lights,” Maye says.