Why Fireflies Blink

Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai  
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Here’s something to make Wordsworth cringe, an explanation to how fireflies blink from a paper by two University of Guwahati scientists in the June issue of Journal of Biosciences: ‘The generally accepted mechanism of firefly bioluminescence is a multi-step process occurring within photocytes of the abdominal lantern. In the first step, luciferase converts firefly D-luciferin into the corresponding enzyme-bound luciferyl adenylate. In the next step, luciferase amino acid residues are recruited to promote the addition of molecular oxygen to luciferin, which is then transferred to an electronic excited-state oxyluciferin molecule and carbon dioxide. In the final step, the rapid loss of energy of the excited state oxyluciferin molecule via a fluorescence pathway results in the emission of visible light.’ The scientists were figuring out why fireflies stop blinking and start emitting continuous light when anaesthetised with ethyl acetate. 

Ah well, it was so much easier to just watch them flit on a moonless night.