New research shows that bioluminescence—a phenomenon in which organisms generate visible light through a chemical reaction—evolved many more times among marine fishes, and likely throughout the entire tree of life, than previously thought. In a study published in the journal PLOS ONE today, scientists from the American Museum of Natural History, St. Cloud State University, and the University of Kansas reveal that bioluminescence evolved 27 times in marine ray-finned fishes—and 29 times if sharks and rays are counted.
“Our findings completely change how we look at the evolution of bioluminescence across all life,” said John Sparks, curator-in-charge of the Museum’s Department of Ichthyology and a co-author of the paper, which is the first to explore how frequently bioluminescence evolved in vertebrates. “This suggests that we need to take a closer look at the evolution and diversification of other lineages with bioluminescent members.”
Image: A stoplight loosejaw (Malacosteus niger), which can engulf prey nearly as large as its own body, produces multiple colors of light.© C. Martinez