Celebrate dinoflagellates on Earth Day!

What do you want to do on your vacation?

Most people respond to this question by saying they want to hang out by the pool (or ocean) and soak up the sun during the day. And at night they want to PARTY!

Welcome to a day in the life of Pyrocystis fusiformis (a.k.a. dinoflagellates).

Dinoflagellates float around in the ocean all day soaking up sunshine. Not only that, they are absorbing CO2 and producing oxygen (through photosynthesis) while catching rays. In fact, plankton and algae produce more than half the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere. Not bad for a day hanging out in the water (definitely more productive than humans on vacation).

At night, these CO2-using, oxygen-producing dinos reconfigure their sunlight-absorbing chlorophyll into light-emitting scintillons (organelles that contain luciferin substrate and luciferase enzyme). When these dinoflagellates are tossed around in the waves or disturbed by any motion at night, they produce a spectacular bioluminescent display. The luciferin and luciferase combine to turn the dinoflagellate cell into a plankton-size glow stick. When many dinoflagellates bioluminesce together at night, it’s like Burning Man in the ocean. And this party happens every night!

Dinoflagellates definitely have it made. The only downside is the potential of becoming a whale snack…

dinoflagellates at night

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