Bioluminescent insects are choice subjects for behavioral studies, but of equal or greater significance is the humanserving use that molecular and cellular biology and medicine have made of firefly bioluminescence chemistry. As one of the few known instances in which ATP is involved in light production, firefly light has been used as a research tool for understanding the machinery of cellular energy conversion and a variety of other applications, including medical diagnoses. ATP, the energy currency of life, is produced, stored, and used by living cells, and each photon of firefly light requires the energy released "from" (the terminal phosphate of) one ATP molecule. Light is easily quantified in the laboratory at extremely low levels by photo detectors (luminometers) and recorders that do not intrude into an ongoing living or chemical systems. Thus, photon monitoring (of ATP) in real time can reveal even subtle variations in reaction rates and enzyme kinetics under different experimental conditions.
Glow intensity of an extract or culture will vary directly as ATP is produced or used ("up") by a cellular reaction and can reveal the diurnal rhythmicity, quiescence or torpor, and health and vigor of living tissue, the last being of particular interest when exploring a bacterial culture's sensitivity to antibiotic substances. Firefly genes whose products are involved in this reaction have been put into the genomes of bacteria, mammals, and plants.
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