When a firefly wants to find its partner, it transmits clear signals. Via a chemical reaction in the body, governed by the substance luciferase, energy is released, and light is emitted so that the flies can find each other in the dark. The phenomenon is called bioluminescence.
Bioluminescence can be used by humans for scientific purposes. Luciferase reacts with all living material to create light. In this way we get an indicator for tracing life. This technique is already in use in some equipment to discover bacteria, for example, in the food industry.
Bioluminescence is also successful in DNA analysis, whereby DNA strands are read using so-called pyrosequencing.
The problem with the technique is merely that, like most biological techniques, it is rather temperature sensitive. At lower temperatures reactions can occur that render test results difficult to interpret. Until now it has only been possible to use it at room temperature. However, in his dissertation Jonas Eriksson shows a method whereby a thermodynamic ‘magic trick’ can get it to function at higher temperatures, at present up to 37 degrees centigrade. This higher temperature yields more certain results from DNA analysis.
This discovery may also lead to further uses. One such use would be to equip a future space explorer with sensors that can discover biological life. A space explorer must be able to stand a certain amount of temperature change, and the small NASA robots rolling around on Mars today, Spirit and Opportunity, are only equipped for geological investigations.
Name of dissertation: Advancements in firefly luciferas- based assays and pyrosequencing technology
Time and place of public defense: March 5, 10:00 a.m., Svedbergsalen, AlbaNova, Roslagstullsbacken 21, Stockholm