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The anatomy of the Pyralis firefly (common firefly in North America) is similar to that of a common beetle.

A firefly is actually a beetle, in the family Lampyridae, and not related to flies at all. On average they are 2 cm long, have a segmented body, and a hard exoskeleton. The abdomen of the firefly is the segment that contains the lantern. The lantern consists of several layers of reflective cells and a single layer of photocytes (Ham, 2001). There are thousands of photocytes in this layer and the layers form rings around the ends of branching air tubes that lead into the lantern. Air reaching the reflective cells is one of the proposed control mechanisms for firefly bioluminescence. The purpose of this bioluminescence in fireflies is to attract a mate and to deter predators, but this unique quality has many applications.


Night Lights - 2005

1887 a French physiologist, Raphael Dubois, discovered how to harvest luciferin and luciferase from fireflies. Originally, someone would have to collect a large number of fireflies from the field and put them on ice. The ice immobilized the fireflies and kept them from depleting their chemicals. Once a large number was collected, they would be divided into two groups, one for luciferin and one for luciferase. Luciferase is a heat sensitive enzyme is heat sensitive so the fireflies must remain cold. A razor blade was then used to remove the firefly lanterns from their body. The bodies are discarded and the lanterns are ground with a mortar and pestle with the addition of water. The cold water oxidizes the luciferin so that only luciferase remains. This liquid can then be placed in a vial and stored at room temperature. For the luciferin, the firefly lanterns are added to an equal amount of boiling water. The hot water denatures the luciferase so when it is ground with a mortar and pestle only luciferin remains. This creates about 3 5 mL of crude protein extract (Lynch, 1999). This technique only created a small amount of extract, it was not pure, and it was very costly due to the effort of extraction. The technique of harvesting the luciferin and luciferase from fireflies has improved significantly over the years. The DNA code was identified and put into E. coli cells, which now create large amounts of luciferin and luciferase though the fermentation process (De Wet, et. al.,

1985). This method is more cost effective than the earlier methods and creates a higher purity and greater amount of extract. This method also eliminates the, now needless, killing of fireflies, which are on the threatened species list. Upon heat induction, transcription initiates at PR and continues through the luciferase cDNA. Heat induction is effective as the gene is heat sensitive and the cDNA is inserted just after the promoter for the gene. Transcription is stopped just after the Luciferase cDNA at RI, the EcoRI restriction
De Wet, et. al. - 1985

site. This is now the preferred method as this method creates large amounts of extract, the

extract is of greater purity, and it eliminates the, now needless, killing of fireflies, which are on the threatened species list.

References De Wet, J. R., Wood, K. V., Helinski, D. R., & DeLuca, M. (1985, December). Cloning of Firefly Luciferase cDNA and the Expression of Active Luciferase in Escherichia coli. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 82, 7870-7873. Retrieved from Ham, B. (2001, June 28). Science Mysteries [Secret formula for a fireflys glow]. Retrieved from 2011 American Association for the Advancement of Science website: glow/#.TopNmnMUXnw Lynch, T. (1999). Bioluminescence in Fireflies [The luciferase-luciferin reaction in Photinus pyralis. ]. Retrieved from Terry Lynch website:

Night Lights - Anatomy of a Lightning Bug [Print]. (2005, November 8). Retrieved from