A taste of light

by Vivienne Baillie Gerritsen

Light gave life a chance to be. Without it, our planet would not be inhabited by so many living beings of all shapes and sizes. Over time, animals, plants and all sorts of microorganisms have emerged and evolved using this source of photons in different ways. Like hosts of other creatures, we use light for vision so that we can discern individual entities that make up our environment, as well as movement within it. Bereft of that faculty, it becomes difficult to hunt prey, shun predators and attract a mate - life's basic needs for all species. Not all species have eyes though, so have devised different ways of coping with these needs. But they still use light for other purposes such as the vital metabolic pathway known as photosynthesis in plants, circadian rhythms or metabolism changes in bacteria for instance. Light can also stimulate movement, as is the case for the very small worm known as Caenorhabditis elegans. However, for all this to happen, there has to be a system in each of these organisms that can catch light and transform it to meet their requirements. This is done by way of photoreceptor proteins. And C.elegans uses one of a very special kind which is known as high-energy light unresponsive 1, or Lite-I.

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