Naturalists in antiquity worked hard to dispel fanciful ideas about the meaning of living lights, but remained bewildered by them. Even Charles Darwin was perplexed by the chaotic diversity of luminous organisms, which he found difficult to reconcile with his evolutionary theory. It fell to naturalists and scientists to make sense of the dazzling displays of fireflies and other organisms. In Luminous Creatures Michel Anctil shows how mythical perceptions of bioluminescence gradually gave way to a scientific understanding of its mechanisms, functions, and evolution, and to the recognition of its usefulness for biomedical and other applied fields.
Following the rise of the modern scientific method and the circumnavigations and oceanographic expeditions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, biologists began to realize the diversity of bioluminescence's expressions in light organs and ecological imprints, and how widespread it is on the planet. By the end of the nineteenth century an understanding of the chemical nature and physiological control of the phenomenon was at hand. Technological developments led to an explosion of knowledge on the ecology, evolution, and molecular biology of bioluminescence.
Luminous Creatures tracks these historical events and illuminates the lives and the trail-blazing accomplishments of the scientists involved. It offers a unique window into the awe-inspiring, phantasmagorical world of light-producing organisms, viewed from the perspectives of casual observers and scientists alike.
Acknowledgments • vii
Prologue • ix
PART ONE: GROPING IN THE DARK
1 Glows, Flashes, and Marvel-Mongers • 3
2 The Age of Enlightenment • 17
3 A Deeper Probing of Nature Aglow • 27
PART TWO: THE L IGHTS BENEATH THE SURFACE
4 The Birth of Scientific Ocean Exploration • 57
5 The Mystery of a Lit Underworld • 85
6 Inside the Light-Producing Organs • 108
PART THREE: OPENING UP NEW VISTAS OF RESEARCH
7 Paolo Panceri and the Italian Cohort • 139
8 Raphaël Dubois and the Chemistry of Living Light • 163
9 Bioluminescence Spreads Further Afield • 181
PART FOUR: THE AMERICAN ASCENDANCY
10 E. Newton Harvey and the Princeton Laboratory • 225
11 The Triumph of the Biochemists • 250
12 Through a Glass, Brightly - William Beebe’s Bathysphere • 269
PART FIVE : OFF CENTRE STAGE
13 The Peculiar Career of Yata Haneda • 287
14 Circling the Luminaries • 308
15 A Bioluminescence Expedition • 336
PART SIX: THE L EAP TO CURRENT UNDERSTANDING
16 Probing Oceanic Bioluminescence • 351
17 Understanding How Light Sources Are Controlled • 374
18 Unravelling Molecular Mechanisms • 388
Epilogue • 405
Bibliography • 411
Index • 461
Michel Anctil is honorary professor of biology at Universite de Montreal and author of Dawn of the Neuron: The Early Struggles to Trace the Origin of Nervous Systems.
"A fresh and welcome perspective on bioluminescence knowledge, especially before the Second World War, Luminous Creatures provides a window into the evolution of a fascinating aspect of natural history through recorded time."
– James Morin, Cornell University
"Engagingly written and informative, Luminous Creatures covers the history of observations and research in connection with the phenomenon of bioluminescence through the ages, providing the reader not only with a chronology of scientific advances in the field but also with glimpses into the lives of some of the key researchers of living lights."
– Victor Benno Meyer-Rochow, Research Institute of Luminous Organisms, Hachijojima, Tokyo