Since the early 20th century, many researchers have attempted to determine how fungi are able to emit light. The first successful experiment was obtained using the classical luciferin–luciferase test that consists of mixing under controlled conditions hot (substrate/luciferin) and cold (enzyme/luciferase) water extracts prepared from bioluminescent fungi. Failures by other researchers to reproduce those experiments using different species of fungi lead to the hypothesis of a non-enzymatic luminescent pathway. Only recently, the involvement of a luciferase in this system was proven, thus confirming its enzymatic nature. Of the 100 000 described species in Kingdom Fungi, only 71 species are known to be luminescent and they are distributed unevenly amongst four distantly related lineages. The question we address is whether the mechanism of bioluminescence is the same in all four evolutionary lineages suggesting a single origin of luminescence in the Fungi, or whether each lineage has a unique mechanism for light emission implying independent origins. We prepared hot and cold extracts of numerous species representing the four bioluminescent fungal lineages and performed cross-reactions (luciferin × luciferase) in all possible combinations using closely related non-luminescent species as controls. All cross-reactions with extracts from luminescent species yielded positive results, independent of lineage, whereas no light was emitted in cross-reactions with extracts from non-luminescent species. These results support the hypothesis that all four lineages of luminescent fungi share the same type of luciferin and luciferase, that there is a single luminescent mechanism in the Fungi, and that fungal luciferin is not a ubiquitous molecule in fungal metabolism.
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