Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Insight into natural chemical sychronisation

24 October 2020

Source of Sync

Spots of yellow-green light twinkle at dusk in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (USA). For a few hours every night during mating season, chemicals called luciferin and luciferase slosh together inside the abdomen of Photinus carolinus fireflies producing pulses of bright bioluminescence. Here researchers arranged special 360° cameras to follow them in 3D, capturing a mysterious phenomenon – fireflies synchronise their flashing patterns. Comparing different sized groups of fireflies, scientists believe the insects observe each other, coordinating their rhythms – these techniques provide an exciting way to explore this natural phase synchronisation. This may help to understand and possibly guide other forms of natural synchronisation – such as in the human body, where 'communication' takes the form of chemical pulses passed between and inside cells – and where, appropriately enough, firefly luciferase is often used to follow important molecules in the dark, like waves passing across a hillside.

Written by John Ankers

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