Research Spotlight

Fishing for enzymes deep in the ocean

Laurel Oldach
April 29, 2022

When a research team pulls up a trawling net from the ocean floor, researchers often scramble to douse the specimens in ethanol or formaldehyde. It’s important to prevent decay of organisms that usually die before they even reach the surface. But Anderson Garbuglio de Oliveira, a chemist studying marine bioluminescence, would rather they were frozen.

Gabriela Galeazzo
A bioluminescent coral

“If you throw a net in the ocean, you will probably find a lot of bioluminescent organisms,” he said. About 90% of deep sea species produce light; but that glow is almost invisible in bright daylight, and his shipboard colleagues are usually interested in other topics. To retrieve and freeze bioluminescent tissue samples before they are pickled in formaldehyde, he said, “I must be very quick.”

Back in the lab at the University of Sao Paulo, Oliveira’s research team investigates the activity of luciferase enzymes, which produce light through a reaction between oxygen and a family of substrate molecules. While some luminescence systems, such as those from comb jellies, are well understood, working with other organisms, such as segmented worms, is “very, very difficult,” Oliveira said, “because their systems are completely new. … Most of the time you have no idea what you’re dealing with.”

Biotechnologists have found numerous laboratory uses for the best-known luciferases, which come from jellies and fireflies. Still, surprisingly little is known about the other biochemical systems that produce light, a phenomenon that evolved on at least 94 independent occasions.

Oliveira is looking for enzymes with properties that could be biochemically interesting and lead to novel uses, such as detecting magnesium or calcium without needing to use fluorescence microscopy. He said, “You can find a lot of interesting things in these weird animals.”

Enjoy reading ASBMB Today?

Become a member to receive the print edition monthly and the digital edition weekly.

Learn more
Laurel Oldach

Laurel Oldach is a former science writer for the ASBMB.

Get the latest from ASBMB Today

Enter your email address, and we’ll send you a weekly email with recent articles, interviews and more.

Latest in Science

Science highlights or most popular articles

Evolutionary constraints on disordered proteins
Feature

Evolutionary constraints on disordered proteins

Dec. 5, 2022

Best of BMB 2022: “There’s evidence that there must be conservation of function — so how does this happen, if the sequence changes so much?”

COVID-19, preprints and journalists
Science Communication

COVID-19, preprints and journalists

Dec. 3, 2022

Researchers find that news stories often fail to mention when studies haven’t been peer reviewed.

From the journals: MCP
Journal News

From the journals: MCP

Dec. 2, 2022

Muscling in on a signaling pathway. Probing weaknesses in the T cell surface. Improving single-cell proteomics two ways. Read about papers on these topics recently published in the journal Molecular & Cellular Proteomics.

Unconventional phosphoinositide synthesis
Lipid News

Unconventional phosphoinositide synthesis

Nov. 29, 2022

Researchers uncover a clue to how disease-causing bacteria synthesize the tiny lipids known as 3-phosphoinositides to hijack host cells.

From the journals: JLR
Journal News

From the journals: JLR

Nov. 25, 2022

A new way to measure lipoprotein(a). A new source of metabolized cholesterol. A new way to count ceramides. Read about articles on these topics recently published in the Journal of Lipid Research.

How proteolysis controls the Legionnaires’ pathogen
Journal News

How proteolysis controls the Legionnaires’ pathogen

Nov. 24, 2022

The bacterium that causes this severe pneumonia has a biphasic life cycle that depends on regulation of protein homeostasis.