New Year/Full Circle

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I began my research career over 30 years ago now. One of the avenues for my early investigations was the cloning, and use of, the genes encoding the light producing systems from naturally bioluminescent bacteria. In this manner, I could monitor the turning on and off of gene expression simply by measuring light production, and also produce new   and unnatural  forms of life that were genetically modified to “glow in the dark”. I’ve maintained a fascination with this form of cold biological light ever since, so at the end of 2015 and beginning of 2016, it was thrilling to come across bioluminescent bacteria in a delightfully unexpected manner. With my wonderful family and visiting Basel Zoo with dear friends, I came across an exhibit of flash light fish in an aquarium tank. This bioluminescent species possesses  large, oval-shaped photophores located just beneath each eye and the  light that they emit can be seen from over 30 m away. Surprisingly, the source of the bioluminescence in flashlight fish are symbiotic bacteria, and the same ones that I used early in my research career.  These bacteria  constantly produce light ,  but the  flashlight fish are able to rotate the photophore downward, covering the light, and so can control its visibility. They use this light as a lure to attract prey, and also to evade predators by shutting the light off,  or  by confusing a pursuing predator by light- blinking while swimming in a zig-zag pattern.

The glyphs in these images are produced by the flashlight fish moving,  and by using a slow shutter speed to produce bioluminescent light trails. Like the mechanisms of quantum mechanics, my act of observation will effect the activity of the fish, and the formation of the glyphs as the fish react to my presence. Likewise, my own responses will be influenced by the movements of the fish so that the glyphs become the outcome of reciprocal and silent acts of  interspecies communication.  I am humbled to have experienced and recorded this.



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