Showing blog posts tagged with "Bioluminescence"
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Curator John Sparks will be blogging weekly about the upcoming exhibition, Creatures of Light, which opens on Saturday, March 31.
In just a little over a month, on March 31, the American Museum of Natural History will open our latest exhibition, Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence,which focuses on the amazing diversity of organisms that produce light across every conceivable habitat. Every exhibition we produce is a collaboration between the Museum’s research scientists and the exhibition team, which includes writers, designers, artists, and media specialists. I’m the curator for this exhibition, which means that I oversee the scientific content and bring expertise from my research—in this case, on the evolution of bioluminescent signaling systems in marine fishes.We’re hard at work on the show this month, and I’ll be writing weekly posts from behind the scenes to offer some glimpses of what goes into producing a major exhibition. Here’s my first dispatch:
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Stony corals are living animals that are only two cell layers thick, but over time, their calcium carbonate skeletons can form massive limestone islands. Some contain fluorescent molecules, proteins in their tissue that absorb light from an external source and emit light back at different wavelengths. Marine biologist David Gruber uses a painstaking method of underwater photography to get striking images of fluorescent corals, including images of moon coral and staghorn coral currently on display in the exhibition Picturing Science: Museum Scientists and Imaging Technologies.
“You shine a specific wavelength of light to stimulate the protein—usually blue or green—and the corals emit back in otherworldly greens and reds,” explains Gruber, a research associate in the Museum’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology, “You have to photograph underwater in the dark at night with specially-filtered strobes because you’re only interested in the light emitted by the corals and other reef-dwelling organisms.”
Gruber photographed these corals in the northern Red Sea in Eilat, Israel, in May 2010, as part of his research into the patterns and functions of fluorescent proteins. Fluorescent proteins have been found to be useful tools in studying AIDS, Altzheimer’s, cancer, and other diseases, as well as in basic biological research.
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While advances in imaging technologies have opened new pathways for scientists to study natural phenomena, researchers continue to make remarkable discoveries using techniques that have been around for decades. John Sparks, associate curator in the Museum’s Department of Ichthyology, uses enzymes and dyes to reveal key anatomical structures in different species of ﬁshes for study of their function and evolution.
Among his study subjects are ponyﬁshes (family Leiognathidae), a group of bioluminescent ﬁshes common in the Indian Ocean and Western Paciﬁc that have a light organ. This internal structure, which varies among ponyﬁsh species, surrounds the esophagus and contains luminescent bacteria, the source of the ﬁsh’s light. The light organ is larger in males, which have a second species-speciﬁc anatomical feature: translucent skin patches, which allow them to use the light organ in displays to attract mates in turbid waters. (Bioluminescent organisms will be explored in the exciting new exhibition Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence, which opens at the Museum on March 31, 2012.)
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Seventeen-year-old Ryan wanted to understand whether the popular insect repellant DEET, worn by many tourists to ward off mosquitoes, had any effect on the dinoflagellates in these bays. His investigation, outlined in the essay The Effects of DEET on the Bioluminescent Dinoflagellate, Pyrocystis fusiformis, earned Ryan one of this year’s Young Naturalist Awards.
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Museum scientists John Sparks and David Gruber have traveled the world in search of bioluminescent and biofluorescent organisms. On Wednesday, November 2, at 7 pm, the pair will host November’s SciCafe, Alive and Glowing: Adventures in Bioluminescence and Biofluorescence, and shed light on the way these phenomena have appeared throughout the tree of life. Dr. Sparks will also curate the Museum’s upcoming special exhibition Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence, which opens March 31. Below, Sparks and Gruber answer a few questions about their enlightening research.