Skip to Main content Skip to Navigation
Journal articles

Bioluminescence and Photoreception in Unicellular Organisms: Light-Signalling in a Bio-Communication Perspective

Abstract : Bioluminescence, the emission of light catalysed by luciferases, has evolved in many taxa from bacteria to vertebrates and is predominant in the marine environment. It is now well established that in animals possessing a nervous system capable of integrating light stimuli, bioluminescence triggers various behavioural responses and plays a role in intra- or interspecific visual communication. The function of light emission in unicellular organisms is less clear and it is currently thought that it has evolved in an ecological framework, to be perceived by visual animals. For example, while it is thought that bioluminescence allows bacteria to be ingested by zooplankton or fish, providing them with favourable conditions for growth and dispersal, the luminous flashes emitted by dinoflagellates may have evolved as an anti-predation system against copepods. In this short review, we re-examine this paradigm in light of recent findings in microorganism photoreception, signal integration and complex behaviours. Numerous studies show that on the one hand, bacteria and protists, whether autotrophs or heterotrophs, possess a variety of photoreceptors capable of perceiving and integrating light stimuli of different wavelengths. Single-cell light-perception produces responses ranging from phototaxis to more complex behaviours. On the other hand, there is growing evidence that unicellular prokaryotes and eukaryotes can perform complex tasks ranging from habituation and decision-making to associative learning, despite lacking a nervous system. Here, we focus our analysis on two taxa, bacteria and dinoflagellates, whose bioluminescence is well studied. We propose the hypothesis that similar to visual animals, the interplay between light-emission and reception could play multiple roles in intra- and interspecific communication and participate in complex behaviour in the unicellular world.
Complete list of metadata
Contributor : Magali Lescot Connect in order to contact the contributor
Submitted on : Friday, November 5, 2021 - 8:30:01 AM
Last modification on : Saturday, January 8, 2022 - 3:46:07 AM


Publication funded by an institution


Distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License



Youri Timsit, Magali Lescot, Martha Valiadi, Fabrice Not. Bioluminescence and Photoreception in Unicellular Organisms: Light-Signalling in a Bio-Communication Perspective. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, MDPI, 2021, 22 (21), pp.11311. ⟨10.3390/ijms222111311⟩. ⟨hal-03402318⟩



Les métriques sont temporairement indisponibles