DS10 - Défi des autres savoirs

Molecular origin and modulation of the color in firefly bioluminescence – BIOLUM

Submission summary

Vision and other light-based signaling processes are ubiquitous in Nature. Among all the molecular mechanisms responsible for light emission (eg fluorescence, phosphorescence …), chemiluminescence and its corresponding process in living organisms, bioluminescence, are interesting because of their molecular origin: chemical energy converted to light. It is noteworthy that the emitted light is a signature of the underlying chemical reaction. Hence bioluminescence has inspired the development of many analytical toolboxes in biomedical applications (eg imaging) using analogues of typical light emitters (fireflies, beetles, jellyfishes, ...) Because these analogues exhibit photochemical properties similar to their natural counterparts (luminophores), they usually emit blue and green colors, i.e. synthetic yellow or red light emitters remain scarce. The design of bio-inspired light emitters requires a deeper understanding of the factors responsible at the molecular level for the tuning of the emitted color. As exemplified by the design of Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP, 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry)-like systems with optimum photophysical properties, it is of paramount importance to deeply understand the interactions between the light-active species and their protein binding pocket. Similar achievement is needed for the development of bioluminescence-based highly sensitive analytical techniques in environmental, medical, food analysis to cite just a few. The BIOLUM project aims to combine state-of-the-art theoretical and experimental fundamental researches to assess the effect of two major color tuning factors: 1) the luminophore + protein structures and interactions, 2) pH. Crossing the informations accumulated for both native and modified luciferin luminophores in the paradigmatic firefly luciferase enzyme, we envision an improved picture of the mechanisms at work in color modulation, with focus on 1) structures of native and modified luciferins in the luciferase binding pocket, 2) relevant photochemical steps in light emission, 3) key proton transfers between oxyluciferin (denoting the very last luciferin structure before light emission) and various donors and acceptors and 4) amino acids of the protein binding pocket that are crucial to control light emission color. Finally, the gained knowledge will help to suggest new directions for the rational design of man-taylored chemi- and bio-luminescent systems with selected colors.

Project coordination

Nicolas Ferré (Institut de Chimie Radicalaire)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


Faculté de pharmacie - Unistra Laboratoire de Biophotonique et Pharmacologie
IPCMS - CNRS ALSACE Institut de Physique et Chimie des Matériaux de Strasbourg IPCMS UMR CNRS_UdS 7504
MSME - UPEM Laboratoire de Modélisation et Simulation Multi Echelle
ICR - AMU Institut de Chimie Radicalaire

Help of the ANR 441,909 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2016 - 48 Months

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