Bioluminescence: Fundamentals and Applications in Biotechnology - Volume 2

Volume 145 of the series Advances in Biochemical Engineering/Biotechnology pp 3-30


How Synthetic Biology Will Reconsider Natural Bioluminescence and Its Applications

  • Benjamin ReeveAffiliated withCentre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation, Imperial College London
  • , Theo SandersonAffiliated withThe Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute
  • , Tom EllisAffiliated withCentre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation, Imperial College London
  • , Paul FreemontAffiliated withCentre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation, Imperial College London Email author 

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As our understanding of natural biological systems grows, so too does our ability to alter and rebuild them. Synthetic biology is the application of engineering principles to biology in order to design and construct novel biological systems for specific applications. Bioluminescent organisms offer a treasure trove of light-emitting enzymes that may have applications in many areas of bioengineering, from biosensors to lighting. A few select bioluminescent organisms have been well researched and the molecular and genetic basis of their luminescent abilities elucidated, with work underway to understand the basis of luminescence in many others. Synthetic biology will aim to package these light-emitting systems as self-contained biological modules, characterize their properties, and then optimize them for use in other chassis organisms. As this catalog of biological parts grows, synthetic biologists will be able to engineer complex biological systems with the ability to emit light. These may use luminescence for an array of disparate functions, from providing illumination to conveying information or allowing communication between organisms.

Graphical Abstract


Bio-lighting Bioluminescence Chassis organisms Synthetic biology