'Glow-in-the-dark marine bacteria lure predators'

Hebrew University scientists are first to discover evolutionary justification for such bioluminescence.

February 26, 2012 23:09
1 minute read.
Glowing zooplankton after eating glowing bacteria

Glowing zooplankton after eating glowing bacteria 390. (photo credit: Courtesy of Hebrew University)


Dear Reader,
As you can imagine, more people are reading The Jerusalem Post than ever before. Nevertheless, traditional business models are no longer sustainable and high-quality publications, like ours, are being forced to look for new ways to keep going. Unlike many other news organizations, we have not put up a paywall. We want to keep our journalism open and accessible and be able to keep providing you with news and analysis from the frontlines of Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World.

As one of our loyal readers, we ask you to be our partner.

For $5 a month you will receive access to the following:

  • A user experience almost completely free of ads
  • Access to our Premium Section
  • Content from the award-winning Jerusalem Report and our monthly magazine to learn Hebrew - Ivrit
  • A brand new ePaper featuring the daily newspaper as it appears in print in Israel

Help us grow and continue telling Israel’s story to the world.

Thank you,

Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO, Jerusalem Post Group
Yaakov Katz, Editor-in-Chief


Spookily shaped glow-in-the-dark ghouls are apparently not limited to late-night Halloween trick-or-treating, Hebrew University researchers have discovered.

A twinkling contingent of marine bacteria actually uses its light-up capabilities to lure in its plankton predators, who consume – but are unable to digest – the microscopic pathogens that then live off of and continue to glow inside the planktons’ guts, according to the researchers. In turn, the now glowing plankton, usually zooplankton, attract the eyes of predatory fish who dine on them.

While the phenomenon of bioluminescence has long since been identified, the researchers have for the first time identified the reason why the marine bacteria glow – so that they might attract the predators that give them an environment of plentiful nutrition. Such conclusions recently appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS), based on research carried out by graduate student Margarita Zarubin at the Inter-university Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat under the supervision of Hebrew University Prof. Amatzia Genin, the head of the Evolution, Systematics and Ecology Department there.

Although it might seem counterintuitive that zooplankton would continue to be attracted to a species of bacteria that preys upon their digestive system, any luminescence in the water indicates to the plankton that there is a presence of rich organic material, some of which it might want to consume, according to Genin.

“It is worthwhile for the zooplankton to take the risk of becoming glowing themselves when contacting and consuming the particle with glowing bacteria, since the profit of finding rare food there is greater than the danger of exposing themselves to the relatively rare presence of predatory fish,” Genin said.

In their research, the scientists discovered that nocturnal fish are able to easily detect and consume glowing zooplankton, but that the fish are not attracted to darker forms of the plankton.

Meanwhile, the bacteria that managed to thrive in the digestive systems of the zooplankton often are able to then prey upon the guts of the larger fish as well.

“As far as the bacteria are concerned, their access to the fish digestive systems is like reaching ‘paradise’ – a safe place, full of nutrients, and also a means of transport into the wide ocean,” Genin said.

Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>

Related Content

Holland Park’s forest, north of Eilat.
August 11, 2014
Promising trend of prosecution for environmental crimes, officials say