Oceans of Opportunity

finding light within the darkness | creatures of light

'A New Life in the Sea' by Michael Lombardi

Today I’m very excited to share a recent publication by the collaborative team from Luminescent Labs:

Sparks JS, Schelly RC, Smith WL, Davis MP, Tchernov D, et al. (2014) The Covert World of Fish Biofluorescence: A Phylogenetically Widespread and Phenotypically Variable Phenomenon. PLoS ONE 9(1): e83259. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0083259 link

In laypersons terms – more than a decade of discovery work in the field of fluorescence within the marine environment has been pried open just a little bit farther. This is all very, very exciting, as among the early work in which I got my feet wet in marine science focused on fluorescence imaging techniques underwater. At the time, this had implications in both biological research, as well as developing advanced imaging systems for defense purposes. As the field has evolved, and more and more sets of eyes and more sophisticated technologies have been employed to discover, view, and work with fluorescent proteins from the marine environment, the phenomenon has been discovered as being rather widespread, but ‘why’ is the overarching question.

In this paper, the authors describe the rather widespread presence of fluorescent proteins in fish. Previously, fluorescence was most commonly known to occur in corals and other invertebrates. though its function within the animal is still largely unknown. It is suspected that fluorescence, may play a role in communication, much like the more familiar bioluminescence.  A recent piece on CNN describe this study and its implication well: CNN piece on fluorescence.

The work excites me for a number of reasons – principally from the perspective of this creating yet another justification to continue carrying out purist exploration with discovery motives, and in environments we still know so little about. While fluorescence discovery is best carried out at night, it also begs the question of probing deeper, low-light, environments to determine the presence of these proteins, the roles they may play, and perhaps stumble on a next major breakthrough.

My role in this study was a seemingly small one – carrying out a handful of deep mesophotic dives in the Bahamas to collect specimens conventionally out of reach utilizing scuba, and having a hand in safety oversight for a recent Solomon islands expedition carried out by the American Museum of Natural History. I am always amazed at the vast depth of work that goes in to arriving at these high impact studies. We may not always know why we’re doing what we’re doing, but it’s the process of exposing the next set of questions that keeps us every evolving.

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