There is over 100 species of glowing fungi, all sharing the same biochemical mechanism for bioluminescence. In a joint work with labs in Russia, Austria, Spain and Brazil, we discovered key genes that are responsible for fungal bioluminescence. It seems that their expression is sufficient to make any organism glow!
Molecular details of fungal bioluminescence – the structure of fungal luciferin and enzymes performing its biosynthesis and oxidation – were also completely unknown.
In 2015, Yampolsky group reported the structure of fungal luciferin and found that its biosynthetic precursor is a simple plant and fungal metabolic hispidin.
At the same time, none of the enzymes that catalyze these reactions were known – so we set out to discover them.
After several approaches failed, from classical biochemistry of protein extracts to differential expression of genes in glowing and non-glowing tissues, we tried the simplest one: to express cDNA library of the fungus Neonothopanus nambi in yeasts and to spray the colonies with luciferin – trying to find the glowing ones.