Saturday, October 2, 2010

Natures Amazing Firefly and Stem Cell Research

      Their ability to make light is known as bioluminescence. Both males and females have light producing organs composed of cells called photocytes, which contain a chemical called luciferin. An enzyme known as luciferase acts on luciferin that combines with oxygen to generate light in the firefly’s tail.         
  Scientists have used luciferase in the analysis of cells. By injecting luciferase into specific cells within an animal’s body, they are distinguishable from other ones because of their glow. For instance, by injecting cancer cells with luciferase, researchers can monitor progress in treatments, as cells begin to disappear. Apart from cancer research, firefly luciferase has played a significant role in the areas of muscular dystrophy, heart disease, urology, antibiotic testing, and wastewater treatment and blood banks have used the luciferase enzyme to test the quality of red blood cells within their stock.

Fireflies Stem Cell Research.

      In University of Central Florida ,Steven Ebert engineered stem cells with the same enzyme that makes fireflies glow. The "firefly" stem cells glow brighter and brighter as they develop into healthy heart muscle, allowing doctors to track whether and where the stem cells are working.
    Researchers are keenly interested in stem cells because they typically morph into the organs where they are transplanted. But why and how fast they do it is still a mystery. Now Ebert's cells give researchers the ability to see the cells in action with the use of a special camera lens that picks up the glow under a microscope.
      If doctors can figure out exactly how the cells repair and regenerate cardiac tissue, stem cell therapies could offer hope to more than 17.6 million Americans who suffer from coronary disease. The glow of the enzyme also means therapies would no longer require cutting into patients' chest cavities to monitor the healing.Now that scientists can track the stem cells, Ebert said he hopes to use them in disease models to determine how they heal a damaged heart and what conditions are most suitable for the stems cells to thrive.


 Firefly and their Mating

    New research finds that females of the firefly species Photinus ignitus choose males based on flash pattern in their taillights. A long burning flash means the male can offer a high quality nuptial gift, a sperm package high in nutrients.
   Females that receive high quality nuptial gifts lay lots more eggs, University firefly researcher Sara Lewis said there is a benefit for females that choose one of these males.
   But males of a related species, Photinus greeni, may not be so honest. The greeni males with the most desirable flash pattern do not provide the best nuptial gift.
  The question now is whether the males are being purposely dishonest or signaling something else, Lewis said. "Females definitely notice the variation. They're still being choosey"
     Male fireflies are built to mate  basically their whole anatomy is dedicated to producing the sperm package. Making a good sperm package requires loads of energy, and most males can only produce about 10 in their short lifetime. The entire purpose of a male firefly's life is to mate, pretty much with any female that will accept them.
       Female fireflies need to be choosey  they only live for two weeks in their adult stage and need to make those two weeks count. In this small period of time  females will mate with multiple males and lay about 100 eggs.
 Fireflies in a Jar

       History of Firefly
   Fireflies have served as cheap lights in some countries, such as China and Japan, where students once used them as reading lights. The Brazilians made gourd lanterns from them and tied them in their hair and around their ankles to guide them at night.
       Throughout history people from different cultures have been fascinated by fireflies. European sailors returning from the South Pacific talked of “fields of fairies” they had seen in the islands. Many Native Americans believed they were magical. The Cherokee told a legend of fireflies leading a young brave to his lost daughter after a terrible storm.     
And today the Japanese, having a deep respect for nature, hold firefly festivals hotari matsuri in their honor. Aside from the romantic myths that surround these luminous insects there are numerous scientific discoveries that we can share as we engage in chasing fireflies.


Darkness fills a damp summer night,
Nature’s lanterns begin to take flight,
Crickets chirping, the nocturnal awake,
Nightfall in action until the day breaks,
Fireflies staging a brilliant show,
Festival of lights in a grassy meadow.
Children rush to this sacred place,
Wondrous looks on each little face.
Searching ever carefully for a twinkle and flash,
snatching beetles from mid-air, away again they dash.
Catch them, count them, one, two, three...
Flickering in a jar for all to see.
A call in the distance, time to fly,
Release the luminaries back to the sky.

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