A team of five scientists landed in the Solomon Islands this week to conduct a series of night dives in search of organisms that glow–or, in other words, bioluminescent and biofluorescent marine animals.
The expedition is sponsored by the National Geographic Society/Waitt Institute and the American Museum of Natural History, and the scientists involved span fields of study from marine biology to neuroscience.
In the dark of night, they will scour the Solomon Islands’ coral reefs, among the most diversely populated in the world, in search of what expedition-leader David Gruber describes as “near-infrared fluorescent and bioluminescent molecules.”
Gruber, an assistant professor of biology at Baruch College and researcher with the American Museum of Natural History, believes that the glowing organisms have properties that can aid in biomedical research.
Writing in the New York Times, Gruber explained the difference between bioluminescent organisms and bioflourescent organisms.
“Bioluminescent animals produce their own light; biofluorescent animals transform and re-emit existing light.”
According to Gruber, these properties have fascinated scientists for years. And while much is known about fireflies (bioluminescent), little is known about the glowing organisms of the deep.
The main reason for this are the inherent difficulties of studying tiny organisms in the depths of the ocean at night: they’re hard to reach, find, and track, and they can only be seen after dark.
To accomplish their mission, Gruber and the other scientists brought an arsenal of high-tech tools: “underwater spectrophotometers, narrow excitation bandwidth fluorescence imaging, military-grade low-light custom-built underwater cameras and a RED Epic 5K movie camera capable of obtaining imagery almost 10 times the resolution of high definition.”
In addition, Gruber is involved in an exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History called Creatures of Light. Running from March 31-January 6, 2013, the exhibit introduces visitors to a variety of bioluminescent organisms, showing the environments in which they exist, the various functions of bioluminescence, and the ways in which scientists study the phenomenon of glowing organisms.
Here’s how it describes the exhibit on the Creatures of Light web page:
“The exhibition unfolds through a series of immersive environments, beginning in a forest of bioluminescent mushrooms and taking visitors through a meadow filled with fireflies, a bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico, coral reefs, and the deep sea to highlight the ways in which different animals use bioluminescence to attract mates and prey, and to threaten predators. Along the way, see live flashlight fish and special equipment, including a scale model of a deep-sea submersible.”
The exhibition runs March 31-January 6, 2013.
More information on Gruber’s research can be found on his web page here.