Friday, August 14, 2015

Episode 278 (8-17-15): Exploring Bioluminescence, featuring "Ode to a Gloworm" by No Strings Attached

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (4:13)

Transcript of audio, notes on the audio, photos, and additional information follow below.

All Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 8-13-15.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of August 17, 2015.

MUSIC – ~6 sec

This week, we feature a tune whose title fits along a path of connections from biological lights to biomedical research.  Have a listen for about 30 seconds.

MUSIC  - ~34 sec

You’ve been listening to part of ‘Ode to a Gloworm,’ by No Strings Attached, on the 1999 album, “In the Vinyl Tradition Volume I.”  The tune’s name was inspired by a cancer patient with a good sense of humor, who upon receiving radiation joked that he was a “glow worm.”  “Glow worm” is a common name for a variety of insects that are able to produce light from biochemical energy—a process called bioluminescence.  Bioluminescence is familiar to anyone who’s seen fireflies, but the phenomenon also occurs in many other organisms, including certain bacteria, worms, crustaceans, fungi, fish, jellyfish, and marine dinoflagellates that one might see shining in a boat’s wake.  Depending on the organism, bioluminescence can serve the functions of attracting mates, helping find or lure prey, or defending against predators.

For humans, bioluminescence has long been a source of fascination, but it’s also been the subject of much scientific study, with important applications in biochemistry and biomedicine.  For example, certain jellyfish produce a bioluminescent chemical called Green Fluorescent Protein, or GFP.  In the 1990s, scientists succeeded in isolating the jellyfish gene that codes for GFP, and today researchers can implant that gene into other organisms’ cells, where the resulting bioluminescence is used to study cancer, brain function, and other areas.  As it happens, the first reported experimental expression of that jellyfish bioluminescence gene was in a nematode worm – a genetically engineered glow worm!

From jellyfish to glow worms to cancer research, bioluminescence lights up many remarkable biological connections, including those lurking within the story of this week’s music.  Thanks to No Strings Attached for permission to use that music, and let’s close with a few more seconds of, “Ode to a Gloworm.”

MUSIC  - ~19 sec

For more Virginia water sounds, music, and information, visit us online at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


“Ode to a Gloworm,” from the 1999 CD “In the Vinyl Tradition Volume I,” is copyright by No Strings Attached and Enessay Music, used with permission.  More information about No Strings Attached is available online at

Thanks for Eric Day, Virginia Tech Department of Entomology, for providing information for this episode.
Crab with fluorescent bristles on its mouthparts.  Image courtesy of Bioluminescence 2009 Expedition, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Exploration and Research (NOAA/OER), a 2009 expedition in the Bahamas to study bioluminescence on the sea floor.  Photo accessed at

Used in Audio

John C. Day (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford, Oxfordshire, England), “Fireflies and Glow-worms,” online at

S.H.D. Haddock, C.M. McDougall, and J.F. Case, The Bioluminescence Web Page, University of California-Santa Barbara, online at

John Lackie, A Dictionary of Biomedicine, Oxford University Press, Oxford, England, 2010.

James E. Lloyd and Erin C. Gentry, “Bioluminescence,” in Vincent H. Resh and Ring T. Cardé, eds., Encyclopedia of Insects, 2nd Ed., Elsevier Academic Press, Burlington, Mass., 2009.

National Wildlife Federation, “Fireflies, Lightning Bugs,” online at

K. O’Neill et al., “Bioluminescent imaging: a critical tool in pre-clinical oncology research,” Journal of Pathology, Vol. 220, no. 3 (February 2010), pp. 317-327.

Vincent Pieribone and David F. Gruber, Aglow in the Dark: The Revolutionary Science of Bioluminescence,” Belknap/Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2005.

Osamu Shimomura, Bioluminescence: Chemical Principles and Methods, World Scientific Publishing Co., Hackensack, N.J., 2006.

Wet Tropics Management Authority (Queensland, Australia), “Glow Worms and Fireflies,” online at

For More Information on Bioluminescence or Animals that Use It

Donald Ray Burger, “Firefly Reports from Virginia,” online at; this is one of Mr. Burger’s report pages from various states, which in turn is part of his “Firefly Page,” online at

Ben Pfeiffer, “,” a non-profit project to raise awareness of firefly populations; online at .

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “Bioluminescence 2009: Living Light on the Deep-sea Floor” (a 2009 expedition in the Bahamas to study bioluminescence on the sea floor), online at

National Park Service/Great Smoky Mountain National Park, “Synchronous Fireflies,” online at

Elizabeth Simpson, "After algae caused a blue stir, researchers want to know more," Virginian-Pilot, 8/21/15, online at
(about the occurrence of blue-green luminescence caused by a species of dinoflagellate in waters in the Hampton Roads).


This episode may help with the following Virginia’s 2010 Science Standards of Learning (SOLs):

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme4.9 - Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.

Grades K-6 Force, Motion, and Energy Theme
6.2 – energy sources, transformations, and uses.

Grades K-6 Interrelationships in Earth/Space Systems Theme
5.6 – characteristics of the ocean environment.

Grades K-6 Life Processes Theme
1.5 - animals’ basic needs and distinguishing characteristics.
2.4 - life cycles.
3.4 - behavioral and physiological adaptations.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
2.5 - living things as part of a system, including habitats.
3.5 - food webs.
5.5 - organism features and classification.

Life Science Course
LS. 4 - organisms’ features and classification.
LS.6 - ecosystem interactions, including cycles and energy flow.
LS.8 - community and population interactions, including food webs, niches, symbiotic relationships.
LS.9 - adaptations for particular ecosystems’ biotic and abiotic factors.
LS.12 – genetic information and DNA.

Physical Science Course
PS.6 – energy forms, transfer, and transformations.

Earth Science Course
ES.6 – renewable vs. non-renewable resources (including energy resources).
ES.10 – ocean processes, interactions, and policies.

Biology Course
BIO.2 – chemical and biochemical principles.
BIO.5 – inheritance, protein synthesis, DNA structure, DNA technologies.
BIO.6 - bases for modern classification systems, including structures, biochemistry, and developmental stages.
BIO.8 - dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

Physics Course
PH.7 – energy transfer, transformations, and capacity to do work.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at