In daylight, Neonothopanus nambi is a relatively unobservable brown fungus. But surprising surprises are hidden behind the facade: at night, the sponge shines glowingly green. Neonothopanus nambi is one of more than 100 kinds of fungi that emit light. Aristoteles has already documented this phenomenon, called bioluminescence, when describing a glowing, rotten tree. Now scientists have first identified a biochemical pathway that allows to illuminate bioluminescent mushrooms. But even they went further: by putting the three genes necessary to create luminescence into non-fermenting yeast, they artificially created a luminescent eukaryote. Fyodor Kondrashov, Professor of the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria), co-authored a study published today PNASled by Ilia Yampolsky at the Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow.
Adjoining lightning conductors and glowing mushrooms in the forest floor is one of the few things that can be seen on a dark night deep in the Brazilian forest. Both act as living night lighting through the bioluminescence process, a natural phenomenon in which the substance called luciferin is oxidized by the luciferase enzyme that emits light. Bioluminescence occurs in many species, from hot worms to deep fish. Until now, the biochemical pathway that makes luciferin has not been understood in any organism except bacteria. This lack of knowledge has prevented attempts to create higher organisms, such as animals and plants, glow. International cooperation between twelve different institutions led by Iliya Yampolsky, with Fyodor Kondrash, Louise Gonzalez Somermeyer and his former Karen Sarkisyan group, identified how eukaryote Neonothopanus nambi September.
Scientists have found key genes responsible for bioluminescence Neonothopanus nambi. Using library screening and genomic analysis, he identified the enzymes that contribute to the synthesis of luciferin. They have shown that fungal luciferin, the bioluminescent reaction substrate, is just two enzymatic steps from a well-known metabolite, called coffee acid, that the fungus creates. Comparing the mushrooms that shine with those they do not do, Kondrash's team also revealed how gene duplication allowed bioluminescence to develop more than a hundred million years ago. Why it evolved is still unclear, Kondrashov says: "Is bioluminescence a beneficial or just by-product? We do not know yet. There is evidence that the glow attracts the insect that distributes the disputes, but I do not think it is convincing."
They knew how bioluminescent mushrooms live, and the researchers then light up the non-luminescent eukaryotes. Insertion of the luciferase coding gene in Neonothopanus nambi along with three other genes whose products form a chain that converts the coffee acid metabolite into the reaction substrate, luciferin, to the yeast Pichia pastoris resulted in a glowing colony of yeast. "We do not provide chemicals to ferment the yeast, instead we supply the enzymes we need to convert the metabolic product already present in yeast to light," explains Kondrashov.
This discovery could find extensive applications of tissues that report changes in their physiology by lighting up to the creation of shining animals and plants. "If we think of sci-fi scenarios in which glowing plants replace street lights – that's it. It is a breakthrough that can lead to it," Kondrashov says, "but it may take several years until such a light factory is designed. "
Institute of Science and Technology Austria. .