After the process of growing algae at my home for the first time, and waiting almost a week. I can finally start investigating  how actually these half plant half animal glow at “night”. But there is a big problem, they are really hard to capture by camera so last week my work have been basically looking for luminous macro lenses and adjusting values in the camera to capture the light. It is kind of frustrating because the glow a lot in “eye perception”, but apparently they are not so photogenic. Anyways, by shaking the lab flasks and actuating motion in water the algae glows greatly. For now I am just testing with plain old hand movement for shaking just to have a good perception on how they react. Again, I have experienced swimming in these in their natural habitat but my research will cover how they will be behaving in their new micro habitat context. I will be documenting the process.

UPDATE: Apparently I am starting to get the camera values right or at least close to right. Although they are a little unfocused. I have to work on it, but here are some pics. Awesome stuff.

collage 1




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As a procedure after having maintained my algae in small flasks and a fan pointed to them, here is the process of the transplantation into bigger flasks, with more space, filtered air and clean salted water with minerals for the algae to reproduce freely in their own micro habitats, they will then be faced with the “circadian hacking” to control their “sleeping hours.” I hope to soon make a post where they are glowing. A week or so has to pass so they get used to their new homes. I guess, after all this, if they are glowing, is that I did everything correctly. Doing this makes me have a strange feeling. Kind of being part a crazy lab scientist, part an agriculturist, and part a normal human being who is bringing a new pet home. Which is very interesting, that my first interactions with these little guys are feelings and the act of waiting to see if they are alive and happy.







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PROCESS-1. The Algae are here / Emergency Incubator


 The algae arrived on Saturday by surprise from the Experimental Phycology and Culture Collection of Algae at the University of Goettingen (EPSAG). They arrived faster than I thought. For now I will post pictures of what happened. After all this is controlled I will make detailed posts on my experience on how to domesticate or create a micro environment for the Pyrocystis lunula. The ability to produce luminescence is strictly dependent upon the day/light cycle.  In a 12 hour light/12 hour dark cycle, dinoflagellates will only flash brightly during the dark phase.  Light emitted is brightest after several hours of darkness.  Early in the morning, glowing activity is reduced and they no longer react  to luminesce upon shaking.  During the day, the dinoflagellates appear as ellipse shaped cells, pigmented red, indicating the presence of chlorophyll which enables photosynthesis to occur so they may harvest light from the sun. So the first thing I wanted to do is to create a ‘homemade emergency cardboard incubator’ with a light, a fan, and a thermometer (I had no access to an actual incubator on saturday).  The next steps would be to know how to take care of this microalgae and knowing how can they propagate in a healthy way. The basics of what they need is provided right now which is light, temperature and CO2.



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Pyrocystis fusiformis and pyrocystis lunula is a marine dinoflagellate. Dinoflagellates are marine unicellular planktonic organisms. A few species are found in freshwater environments, however 90% of dinoflagellate species are marine. These organisms are found throughout the world’s oceans. Dinoflagellates can perform photosynthetic metabolism, heterotrophic metabolism, or both. P. fusiformis is a mixotroph, meaning that it conducts both photosynthetic and heterotrophic metabolism. As photosynthesizing organisms, dinoflagellates produce a substantial amount of the world’s oxygen, and consume a large proportion of the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide. Dinoflagellates can be found in large numbers in the ocean, and as a result consume a considerable amount of carbon dioxide. Their consumption of carbon dioxide creates a major carbon sink in the carbon cycle 5. This carbon sink is crucial for the function of the global carbon cycle. Dinoflagellates are also important in marine food webs and ecosystems. Dinoflagellates consume other planktonic species, as well as provide a food source for marine filter-feeding organisms such as fish, whale sharks, and baleen whales. Dinoflagellates contribute to the producer trophic level of the marine food web, and help to maintain the diversity of marine organisms seen in the marine ecosystem by providing an essential food source. Some photosynthetic dinoflagellate species live as endosymbionts in marine invertebrates such as sponges and corals. The Lunula, which is the one I will be experimenting with, is much larger that the bahamiense (the one from Vieques, Puerto Rico, talked about earlier), let’s see how that works. They also grow in less density.


These dinoflagellates have a circadian rhythm which controls their bioluminescence and photosynthesis on a 24-hour basis, i.e. they only photosynthesize when they “think” it’s day and they only produce bioluminescence or flash when they “think” it’s night. So, you need to grow them on a strict light schedule, otherwise their natural rhythms can’t synchronize with the light cycle and they won’t know when to flash and when not to flash. This would be an exercise I want to experiment with. Hack the algae’s circadian rhythm. To see if its psible to manipulate the algae to have similar “working” hours as  I have (my day is their night).

Ideally, they should get 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness every 24 hours and at the same time every day. If you can do this, the dinos will be brightly luminescent whenever they are in their “night phase” and they will be pretty much non-luminescent when they are in their “day phase”. Access to a grow light or T5 FLUORESCENT lamp is important, because then one can really control when they get their photosynthetic light.



2166 Pyrocistis lunula



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REFLECTION- 3 Bioluminescence General

I was born and grew up in Puerto Rico. An island full of natural wonders, and we happen to have some “bio bays”. Saltwater bays surrounded almost completely by mangrove plants. They (the mangrove) create a magnificent ecosystem inside the water. A good example is Vieques’ BIO-Bay. This unique bay contains up to 720,000 single-celled bioluminescent dinoflagellates per gallon of water. These half-plant, half-animal organisms emit a flash of bluish light when agitated at night. The high concentration of these creatures (Pyrodimium bahanense) can create enough light to read a book from.


Eighty percent of all known bioluminescent groups inhabit the world’s oceans. At certain depths, nearly all organisms glow. On land, things are quite different. There are bioluminescent fungi and insects, but no flowering plants, birds, reptiles, amphibians, or mammals that glow.

How did bioluminescence evolve? Scientists are still working on this question. Bioluminescence is the visible creation of light by an organism through a biochemical reaction. It is produced by the sudden transformation of a high-energy molecule into a lower state of energy. The difference in these energy levels is emitted as one photon of light. Luciferin and its enzyme Luciferase are the only compounds it produces of interest for its bioluminescence properties. The reduction reaction luciferase has on luciferin uses oxygen to produce the glow. The exact process of how mechanical stimulation can causes Pyrodinium bahamense (as well as other bioluminescent dinoflagellates) to glow is still unknown. Once known, this could have potential use in research and other applications. The reaction is highly efficient, turning 98% of its energy into light, and only loosing 2% as heat. Both luciferin and luciferase are generic terms rather than the names of certain chemicals, meaning that lots of different substances can lead to the reaction and it is estimated that bioluminescence has independently evolved at least 40 to 50 times among existing organisms.

This reaction is what gets me interested in them, besides other animals or bacteria for instance. These dinoflagellates that produce bright blue light when stimulated by movement. How can subtle human manipulations can use these reactions as actuators of light and even as natural sensors of movement and vibrations? I know somehow how they react because I swam in the bays many times. Now, what kind of interactive behaviors and applications can they bring in terms of experimentation of human-nature interaction? Thats what I want to find out. First I have to find them or grow them…


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