What Makes Fireflies Light Up? Here’s The Whole Story

What makes fireflies light up?

We’ve long known the key is a chemical reaction involving a molecule known as luciferase. But it turns out that’s only part of the story. And now we know the rest, thanks to new research by a chemist at Connecticut College.

Dr. Bruce Branchini replicated the reaction in a laboratory setting for the first time ever, confirming what others had hypothesized: that it takes a charged particle called superoxide to create the bugs’ beloved bioluminescence. Just check out the video above, describing the research.

“The key experiment involved the use of a special instrument that uses a magnet and microwaves,” Branchini told The Huffington Post in an email. “With this equipment we definitively identified superoxide ion in a reaction just like the one fireflies use to produce light.”

Case closed.

But Dr. Branchini said the finding could open the door to new avenues of cancer research.

“We hope that our work will lead to the development of bioluminescence methods with greater sensitivity leading to improved detection of cancerous cells,” he said in the email.

A paper describing the research was published in the Journal of The American Chemical Society on June 9, 2015.

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