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PeerJ. 2018 Sep 14;6:e5506. doi: 10.7717/peerj.5506. eCollection 2018.

Luciferin production and luciferase transcription in the bioluminescent copepod Metridia lucens.

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Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY, USA.
Department of Natural Sciences, City University of New York, Bernard M. Baruch College, New York, NY, United States of America.
Biology, City University of New York, Graduate School and University Center, New York, NY, United States of America.
Department of Chemistry, Yale University, New Haven, CT, United States of America.
Biology Department, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA, United States of America.
Cellular and Molecular Physiology, Yale University, New Haven, CT, United States of America.


Bioluminescent copepods are often the most abundant marine zooplankton and play critical roles in oceanic food webs. Metridia copepods exhibit particularly bright bioluminescence, and the molecular basis of their light production has just recently begun to be explored. Here we add to this body of work by transcriptomically profiling Metridia lucens, a common species found in temperate, northern, and southern latitudes. In this previously molecularly-uncharacterized species, we find the typical luciferase paralog gene set found in Metridia. More surprisingly, we recover noteworthy putative luciferase sequences that had not been described from Metridia species, indicating that bioluminescence produced by these copepods may be more complex than previously known. This includes another copepod luciferase, as well as one from a shrimp. Furthermore, feeding experiments using mass spectrometry and 13C labelled L-tyrosine and L-phenylalanine firmly establish that M. lucens produces its own coelenterazine luciferin rather than acquiring it through diet. This coelenterazine synthesis has only been directly confirmed in one other copepod species.


Coelenteramine; Coelenterazine; Copepoda; Luciferase; Luciferin; Metridia lucens

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare there are no competing interests.

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