Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Jean Gaffney

Committee Members

Reza Khayat

David Gruber

John Sparks

Michael Tessler

Subject Categories

Evolution | Molecular Biology


Biofluorescence, Bioluminescence, Eel, Pyrosome, Protein Biology, Molecular Biology


Biofluorescence and bioluminescence are two methods of light emission that entail separate mechanisms of action but end at the same process: a colorful display that have tremendous ecological and behavioral benefits, whether it be used to communicate with conspecifics, camouflage into a multicolored background, attract unsuspecting prey, or alert others to a predator. In biofluorescence, higher-energy, shorter wavelength light is absorbed then re-emitted as lower-energy, longer-wavelength light. Bioluminescence on the other hand entails a chemical reaction in which a small molecule is oxidized by an enzyme, creating a high-energy intermediate that sheds the excess energy in the form of visible light. The research presented here will look at separate proteins to uncover their molecular interactions that lead to light generation. We combine transcriptomics, phylogenetics, and biochemical assays to unravel these mysteries. We have studied fluorescent fatty acid binding proteins to discover which residues are important for eel fluorescence (Chapter 2), as well as to reveal a new member of the group from the Muraenidae family (Chapter 3). Additionally, we confirmed that the pyrosome Pyrosoma atlanticum utilizes an endogenous luciferase that reacts with coelenterazine to luminesce (Chapter 5). Our results provide better insight into the two separates forms of light emission, provide new tools for biomedical research, and overturn old paradigms, all while contextualizing these new proteins in an evolutionary perspective.