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Mushroom enzymes help scientists make other organisms glow in the dark


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"If we think of sci-fi scenarios in which glowing plants replace street lights -- this is it. This is the breakthrough that can lead to this," researcher Fyodor Kondrashov said.

Nov. 28 (UPI) -- Scientists have for the first time isolated the biochemical pathway that allows fungi to glow-in-the-dark.

The ability to light up at night is called bioluminescence. Until now, scientists weren't exactly sure how organisms generate luminescence, but a rather ordinary brown fungus species, Neonothopanus nambi, one of 100 bioluminescent mushrooms, helped researchers solve the mystery.

The breakthrough, detailed this week in the journal PNAS, has allowed scientists to make other organisms glow-in-the-dark.

Bioluminescence is powered by luciferin, which is oxidized by the enzyme luciferase and converted into light. Until now, scientists were unable to identify the genes that code for the production of luciferin.
Interestingly, this same molecular mechanism is used in the very distantly related firefly, a sure sign that this basic chemistry is very ancient & arose early after the origin of life so that it was retained as the insects & other metazoans diverged from the fungi. Bioluminescence is an evolutionary advantage.

However, analysis of the eukaryote Neonothopanus nambi revealed the genes responsible for the enzymes that synthesize luciferin inside the fungus. The study also showed luciferin is very similar to caffeic acid, a common metabolite found in fungi.

The comparison of genes related to luciferin and caffeic acid suggested bioluminescence evolved in mushrooms more than 100 million years ago.
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