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Pyrosomes are tunicates in the phylum Chordata, which also contains vertebrates. Their gigantic blooms play important ecological and biogeochemical roles in oceans. Pyrosoma, meaning “firebody”, derives from their brilliant bioluminescence. The biochemistry of this light production is unknown, but has been hypothesized to be bacterial in origin. We found that mixing coelenterazine—a eukaryote-specific luciferin—with Pyrosoma atlanticum homogenate produced light. To identify the bioluminescent machinery, we sequenced P. atlanticum transcriptomes and found a sequence match to a cnidarian luciferase (RLuc). We expressed this novel luciferase (PyroLuc) and, combined with coelenterazine, it produced light. A similar gene was recently predicted from a bioluminescent brittle star, indicating that RLuc-like luciferases may have evolved convergently from homologous dehalogenases across phyla (Cnidaria, Echinodermata, and Chordata). This report indicates that a widespread gene may be able to functionally converge, resulting in bioluminescence across animal phyla, and describes and characterizes the first putative chordate luciferase.


This article was originally published in Scientific Reports, available at

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.



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