Skip to main content

Postgraduate research project

Illuminating luciferin bioluminescence in dinoflagellates

Fully funded (UK and international)
Type of degree
Doctor of Philosophy
Entry requirements
2:1 honours degree View full entry requirements
Faculty graduate school
Faculty of Environmental and Life Sciences
Closing date

About the project

Noctiluca scintillans (the sea sparkle) and other dinoflagellates are responsible for most bioluminescence in European marine environments and familiar blue-glow blooms. The ecological role of dinoflagellate bioluminescence is currently not clear, and its apparent importance in marine food webs highlights the need to understand its environmental regulation and molecular underpinning. Fundamental gaps in knowledge include how bioluminescence varies within natural populations and how dinoflagellates produce luciferin.

We hypothesize that:

  1. Bioluminescence intensity and gene expression vary among individual cells and are circadian-regulated.
  2. Luciferin is generated by an oxygenase enzyme from a chlorophyll-related molecule.
  3. The investigation of these issues will help illuminate the environmental role of bioluminescence and accelerate the industrial use of dinoflagellate luciferin.

Three innovative approaches will be used:

  • Studying non-photosynthetic Noctiluca which, unlike other bioluminescent dinoflagellates, lacks endogenous photosynthetic chlorophylls and has non-bioluminescent strains, both advantages when analyzing luciferin tetrapyrroles.
  • Single-cell sequencing to profile expression and circadian regulation of bioluminescence genes in natural populations on a cell-by-cell basis.

Identifying new bioluminescence-associated genes by their unique day/night expression profile, specifically oxygenases that could synthesize dinoflagellate luciferin in a single catalytic step, followed by their functional assessment after heterologous expression.

For full project details visit the Inspire project page.


  • Mr Jan Janouskovec (University of Southampton)
  • Dr John Gittins (University of Southampton)
  • Dr Kenneth Mertens (Institut Français de Recherche pour l'Exploitation de la Mer)
  • Dr Glen Wheeler (Marine Biological Association)