Biochemistry and Genetics of Bacterial Bioluminescence

  • Paul Dunlap
Part of the Advances in Biochemical Engineering/Biotechnology book series (ABE, volume 144)


Bacterial light production involves enzymes—luciferase, fatty acid reductase, and flavin reductase—and substrates—reduced flavin mononucleotide and long-chain fatty aldehyde—that are specific to bioluminescence in bacteria. The bacterial genes coding for these enzymes, luxA and luxB for the subunits of luciferase; luxC, luxD, and luxE for the components of the fatty acid reductase; and luxG for flavin reductase, are found as an operon in light-emitting bacteria, with the gene order, luxCDABEG. Over 30 species of marine and terrestrial bacteria, which cluster phylogenetically in Aliivibrio, Photobacterium, and Vibrio (Vibrionaceae), Shewanella (Shewanellaceae), and Photorhabdus (Enterobacteriaceae), carry lux operon genes. The luminescence operons of some of these bacteria also contain genes involved in the synthesis of riboflavin, ribEBHA, and in some species, regulatory genes luxI and luxR are associated with the lux operon. In well-studied cases, lux genes are coordinately expressed in a population density-responsive, self-inducing manner called quorum sensing. The evolutionary origins and physiological function of bioluminescence in bacteria are not well understood but are thought to relate to utilization of oxygen as a substrate in the luminescence reaction.


Bioluminescence Bacterial luciferase Aliivibrio Photobacterium Vibrio lux genes 



Acyl-homoserine lactone


Reduced flavin mononucleotide


Kilobases (thousand nucleotides)




Megabases (million nucleotides)


Long-chain fatty aldehyde


Long-chain fatty acid


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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