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Concept: Firefly


Bioluminescence methodologies have been extraordinarily useful due to their high sensitivity, broad dynamic range, and operational simplicity. These capabilities have been realized largely through incremental adaptations of native enzymes and substrates, originating from luminous organisms of diverse evolutionary lineages. We engineered both an enzyme and substrate in combination to create a novel bioluminescence system capable of more efficient light emission with superior biochemical and physical characteristics. Using a small luciferase subunit (19 kDa) from the deep sea shrimp Oplophorus gracilirostris, we have improved luminescence expression in mammalian cells ∼2.5 million-fold by merging optimization of protein structure with development of a novel imidazopyrazinone substrate (furimazine). The new luciferase, NanoLuc, produces glow-type luminescence (signal half-life >2 h) with a specific activity ∼150-fold greater than that of either firefly (Photinus pyralis) or Renilla luciferases similarly configured for glow-type assays. In mammalian cells, NanoLuc shows no evidence of post-translational modifications or subcellular partitioning. The enzyme exhibits high physical stability, retaining activity with incubation up to 55 °C or in culture medium for >15 h at 37 °C. As a genetic reporter, NanoLuc may be configured for high sensitivity or for response dynamics by appending a degradation sequence to reduce intracellular accumulation. Appending a signal sequence allows NanoLuc to be exported to the culture medium, where reporter expression can be measured without cell lysis. Fusion onto other proteins allows luminescent assays of their metabolism or localization within cells. Reporter quantitation is achievable even at very low expression levels to facilitate more reliable coupling with endogenous cellular processes.

Concepts: Protein, Protein structure, Bacteria, Enzyme, Cell biology, Firefly, Bioluminescence, Luciferase


Fireflies have drawn considerable attention for thousands of years due to their highly efficient bioluminescence, which is important for fundamental research and photonic applications. However, there are few reports on the reflector layer (RL) of firefly lantern, which contributes to the bright luminescence. Here we presented the detailed microstructure of the RL consisting of random hollow granules, which had high reflectance in the range from 450 nm to 800 nm. Inspired by the firefly lantern, artificial films with high reflectance in the visible region were fabricated using hollow silica microparticles mimicking the structure of the RL. Additionally, the bioinspired structures provided an efficient RL for the chemiluminescence system and could substantially enhance the initial chemiluminescence intensity. The work not only provides new insight into the bright bioluminescence of fireflies, but also is importance for the design of photonic materials for theranostics, detection, and imaging.

Concepts: Optics, Light, Structure, Luminescence, Firefly, Bioluminescence, Phengodidae, Reflector


The sensitivity of bioluminescence imaging in animals is primarily dependent on the amount of photons emitted by the luciferase enzyme at wavelengths greater than 620 nm where tissue penetration is high. This area of work has been dominated by firefly luciferase and its substrate, D-luciferin, due to the system’s peak emission (~ 600 nm), high signal to noise ratio, and generally favorable biodistribution of D-luciferin in mice. Here we report on the development of a codon optimized mutant of click beetle red luciferase that produces substantially more light output than firefly luciferase when the two enzymes are compared in transplanted cells within the skin of black fur mice or in deep brain. The mutant enzyme utilizes two new naphthyl-luciferin substrates to produce near infrared emission (730 nm and 743 nm). The stable luminescence signal and near infrared emission enable unprecedented sensitivity and accuracy for performing deep tissue multispectral tomography in mice.

Concepts: Enzyme, Enzyme substrate, Light, Electromagnetic radiation, Firefly, Signal-to-noise ratio, Bioluminescence, Luciferase


In humans, spontaneous movements are often preceded by early brain signals. One such signal is the readiness potential (RP) that gradually arises within the last second preceding a movement. An important question is whether people are able to cancel movements after the elicitation of such RPs, and if so until which point in time. Here, subjects played a game where they tried to press a button to earn points in a challenge with a brain-computer interface (BCI) that had been trained to detect their RPs in real time and to emit stop signals. Our data suggest that subjects can still veto a movement even after the onset of the RP. Cancellation of movements was possible if stop signals occurred earlier than 200 ms before movement onset, thus constituting a point of no return.

Concepts: United States Constitution, Firefly


Bioluminescent imaging (BLI) has been widely applicable in the imaging of process envisioned in life sciences. As the most conventional technique for BLI, the firefly luciferin-luciferase system is exceptionally functional in vitro and in vivo. The state-of-the-art strategy in such a system is to cage the luciferin, in which free luciferin is conjugated with distinctive functional groups, thus accommodating an impressive toolkit for exploring various biological processes, such as monitoring enzymes activity, detecting bioactive small molecules, evaluating the properties of molecular transporters, etc. This review article summarizes the rational design of caged luciferins towards diverse biotargets, as well as their applications in bioluminescent imaging. It should be emphasized that these caged luciferins can stretch out the applications of bioluminescence imaging and shed light upon understanding the pathogenesis of various diseases.

Concepts: Fungus, In vivo, In vitro, Firefly, Bioluminescence, Luciferase, Luciferin, Bioluminescence imaging


Firefly luciferase is the most important and studied bioluminescence system. Due to very interesting characteristics, this system has gained numerous biomedical, pharmaceutical and bioanalytical applications, among others. In order to improve the use of this system, various researchers have tried to understand experimentally the colour of bioluminescence, and to create ways of tuning the colour emitted. The objective of this manuscript is to review the experimental studies of firefly luciferin and oxyluciferin, and related analogues, fluorescence and bioluminescence.

Concepts: Light, Science, Quorum sensing, Firefly, Bioluminescence, Luciferase, Luciferin, Coelenterazine


Split reporter proteins capable of self-association and reactivation have applications in biomedical research, but designing these proteins, especially the selection of appropriate split points, has been somewhat arbitrary. We describe a new methodology to facilitate generating split proteins using split GFP as a self-association module. We first inserted the entire GFP module at one of several candidate split points in the protein of interest, and chose clones that retained the GFP signal and high activity relative to the original protein. Once such chimeric clones were identified, a final pair of split proteins was generated by splitting the GFP-inserted chimera within the GFP domain. Applying this strategy to Renilla reniformis luciferase, we identified a new split point that gave 10 times more activity than the previous split point. The process of membrane fusion was monitored with high sensitivity using a new pair of split reporter proteins. We also successfully identified new split points for HaloTag protein and firefly luciferase, generating pairs of self-associating split proteins that recovered the functions of both GFP and the original protein. This simple method of screening will facilitate the designing of split proteins that are capable of self-association through the split GFP domains.

Concepts: Protein, Enzyme, Virus, Green fluorescent protein, Membrane protein, Firefly, Luciferase, Sea pansy


BACKGROUND: Usually the analysis of the various developmental stages of Trypanosoma cruzi in the experimentally infected vertebrate and invertebrate hosts is based on the morphological observations of tissue fragments from animals and insects. The development of techniques that allow the imaging of animals infected with parasites expressing luciferase open up possibilities to follow the fate of bioluminescent parasites in infected vectors. METHODS: D-luciferin (60 mug) was injected into the hemocoel of the whole insect before bioluminescence acquisition. In dissected insects, the whole gut was incubated with D-luciferin in PBS (300 mug/ml) for ex vivo bioluminescence acquisition in the IVIS® Imaging System, Xenogen RESULTS: Herein, we describe the results obtained with the luciferase gene integrated into the genome of the Dm28c clone of T. cruzi, and the use of these parasites to follow, in real time, the infection of the insect vector Rhodnius prolixus, by a non- invasive method. The insects were evaluated by in vivo bioluminescent imaging on the feeding day, and on the 7 th, 14 th, 21 st and 28 th days after feeding. To corroborate the bioluminescent imaging made in vivo, and investigate the digestive tract region, the insects were dissected. The bioluminescence emitted was proportional to the number of protozoans in regions of the gut. The same digestive tracts were also macerated to count the parasites in distinct morphological stages with an optical microscope, and for bioluminescence acquisition in a microplate using the IVIS® Imaging System. A positive correlation of parasite numbers and bioluminescence in the microplate was obtained. CONCLUSIONS: This is the first report of bioluminescent imaging in Rhodnius prolixus infected with trypomastigotes of the Dm28c-luc stable strain, expressing firefly luciferase. In spite of the distribution limitations of the substrate (D-luciferin) in the insect body, longitudinal evaluation of infected insects by bioluminescent imaging is a valuable tool. Bioluminescent imaging of the digestive tract infected with Dm28c-luc is highly sensitive and accurate method to track the fate of the parasite in the vector, in the crop, intestine and rectum. This methodology is useful to gain a better understanding of the parasite – insect vector interactions.

Concepts: Bacteria, Fungus, Chagas disease, Digestion, Firefly, Trypanosoma cruzi, Bioluminescence, Rhodnius prolixus


Bioluminescent microcapsules uploading D-luciferin have been fabricated by using the covalent assembly of firefly luciferase and alginate dialdehyde through a layer-by-layer technique. Such assembled microcapsules can produce visible light in the region of 520-680 nm, which can activate the photosensitizers rose bengal (RB) and hypocrellin B (HB) after adding ATP. The microcapsules uploading photosensitizers (RB or HB) have an obvious property to prevent the proliferation of tumor cells in the dark. The assembled bioluminescent microcapsules can be potentially used as photon donors for bioimaging, ATP detection, and photodynamic therapy.

Concepts: Electron, Light, Electromagnetic radiation, Quorum sensing, Firefly, Visible spectrum, Bioluminescence, Luciferase


Firefly luciferase adenylates and oxidizes d-luciferin to chemically generate visible light and is widely used for biological assays and imaging. Here we show that both luciferase and luciferin can be reengineered to extend the scope of this light-emitting reaction. d-Luciferin can be replaced by synthetic luciferin analogues that increase near-infrared photon flux >10-fold over that of d-luciferin in live luciferase-expressing cells. Firefly luciferase can be mutated to accept and utilize rigid aminoluciferins with high activity in both live and lysed cells yet exhibit 10 000-fold selectivity over the natural luciferase substrate. These new luciferin analogues thus pave the way to an extended family of bioluminescent reporters.

Concepts: Enzyme, Light, Electromagnetic radiation, Quorum sensing, Firefly, Bioluminescence, Luciferase, Omphalotus olearius