Bioluminescence in Mushrooms


Bioluminescence, the emission of light by a living organism, is a fascinating evolution.

It spans across many species from fish, fireflies, bacteria to algae. Bioluminescence in nature is used as camouflage,
to attract mating partners and prey, for defense, as a warning, for communication, mimicry, or illumination so the prey can be spotted easier.

There are only 71 known species of bioluminescent fungi. Most of them belong to Agaricales‘ lineages, with one exception, which belongs to the lineages of Xylariales.

Figure 1: Bioluminescent fungi Mycena chlorophos [1]

Almost all of the bioluminescent fungi obtain their luminescence from the enzyme luciferin.

Luciferin is catalyzed by the enzyme luciferase. A biological catalyst that accelerates and controls the rate of chemical reaction in cells in the presence of oxygen.

The whole reaction simplified looks like this.

Figure 2: Bioluminescence reaction [2]

ATP (energy) + luciferin (substrate) + luciferase (enzyme) + O2(oxidizer) = light (photon).

This reaction led fungi to emit green light in the visible light range of 520 to 530 nm. Bioluminescence may occur both in the mycelium and in fruitbodies.

When it comes to the mycelium researchers, found that the bioluminescence from Neonothopanus gardneri is controlled by a temperature-compensated circadian clock.

Circadian clock
Figure 3: Circadian clock [3]

The circadian clock is a biochemical oscillator that coordinates internal time with the external environment in a 24-h daily cycle. This circadian clock is the primary driver of the circadian rhythm in humans and is responsible for nearly all physiological activities. Its disorder has severe consequences on human health.

In the case of Neonothopanus gardneri the circadian clock-driven bioluminescence is linked to insects. This link between bioluminescence fungi and insects was first confirmed by John Sviniski in 1981.

In his research, the author could prove that traps filled with bio luminating mycelium attract more arthropods than non-bio luminating traps. But he stated that the attraction of insects to fungal lights does not demonstrate that
luring arthropods is the function of the bioluminescence

While the search to find the answer to why fungi have developed bioluminescence is still going on, the research on bioluminescent fungi has gained attention due to the application in medical research, agricultural fields,
environmental biosensors, biochemistry, photochemistry, evolution, and taxonomic analysis.

Leading to new ways to detect, for example, the toxicity of 3,5-dichlorophenol, pentachlorophenol, and salts of heavy metals or even detect tuberculosis.

In addition, researchers found metabolites from luminescent fungi that possess anti-mold, anti-bacteria, anti-virus, especially in inhibiting cancerous cells’ growth.

Talk to you in the next one.



[1] self, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

[2] Own illustration

[3] 📝 Costantini C, Renga G, Sellitto F, Borghi M, Stincardini C, Pariano M, Zelante T, Chiarotti F, Bartoli A, Mosci P, Romani L, Brancorsini S and Bellet MM (2020) Microbes in the Era of Circadian Medicine. Front. Cell. Infect. Microbiol. 10:30. doi: 10.3389/fcimb.2020.00030,

More resources can be found in the description box of the video.