Picture of Bioluminescent Bacterial Lightbulb / Water Pollution Tester
f. vischeri.jpg
Bioluminescent Bacterial Lightbulb

This instructable will show you how to grow and culture your own glowing bacteria and use it to reinvent the light bulb!

I"ll show you how to grow your very own Vibrio phosphoreum or Vibrio fischeri from fresh sea fish (squid work well) and culture it onto special agar gel that you can make at home or simply buy ready-to-pour. The gel can be formed inside all kinds of things that you want to make glow a cool greenish/blue color !!!!

The glowing vibrio bacteria are marine life forms that live alone or in a symbiotic relationships with fish and squid inside their light organs or as parastites. Alone the bacteria don't really glow but in groups of large enough number something amazing happens called quorum sensing ..... The bacteria upon realizing they have enough of each other around turn on genes that allow them to GLOW !!!! The light that is emitted is super efficient around 98 % meaning that only 2 % is lost through heat, thus the light is cool and that's very COOL. 

Here is some good info on v. fischeri

It's these amazing little guys (1/1,000,000 of a meter long) that will power our lightbulb !!!! If properly cultured your lightbulb will glow for about a month using zero electricity and zero pollution!!!!  Granted its not incredibly bright but you can save electricity  costs if you replaced a night light , or you could use it to read maps or books while camping and not worry about changing batteries in your flashlight and disposing of the batteries causing more pollution !!!! 

Water Pollution Tester 

This instructable will also demonstrate how glowing  bacteria can test  how toxic water is. The methods used are much more Eco friendly than chemicals and processing ..... So not only does bioluminescent bacteria reduce pollution , they can also DETECT IT !!!!  The glowing process is a direct result of the bacteria's metabolism. Fresh clean water does not affect its cellular metabolism or how bright it glows. However even slight toxins that we can't smell , see or taste can alter the bacteria's metabolism and will reduce the amount of light they can produce. By comparing the amount of light emmited from bacteria treated with clean water to that of the sample at hand ..... Say from a stream near a power plant we can assess the level of toxicity in the water !!!! 

Here is a video of what the bacteria look like ALIVE under high magnification:
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drdan152 (author) 3 years ago
I've been doing some experimenting on adding things to the agar to make it glow more...it seems so far that by adding a crushed calcium vitamin (as calcium carbonate, CaCO3) AND some glycerol it glows brighter!!! I'll add the new recipe as soon as testing is done.
VijethaK5 months ago


I am vijetha from Bangalore, India. I wanted to buy some bio-luminescent algae to grow in my lab. But I am not finding it anywhere here. Ca anyone please help me regarding this.


VijethaK5 months ago


Can someone please help in finding the algae culture dealers in India. Preferable in Bangalore.


theegghead11 months ago

A-W-E-S-O-M-E!!! would this work for any kind of ocean-fish residue?

gkpsanchez1 year ago
can you help me out? i just want to ask if the mediums that you have used (LA) is ready made, or you have mixed ever single chemical to make a Luminescent agar. hope you could help me out on this information.
hermes11 year ago
Dear Dan, I'm looking at the solar bottle bulb and thinking: http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-build-a-SOLAR-BOTTLE-BULB/
I'm Thinking is there any cheap/free way of producing a living medium for bio luminescent algae for the poor people of the world to give free lighting at night from the solar bottle bulb idea... Any other links or even cheap/free bio luminescant chemicals that may help in the same situation.
mrg02d1 year ago
Any chance we might accidentally get ahold of the flesh eating cousin?
mrg02d1 year ago
How bright is this? Can you compare it to another light source?
ksail1 year ago
A 'lightbulb' that you can also use to test water quality - very creative.
I was wondering if it is possible to grow Vibrio fischeri in a liquid environment (saltwater) with little or no agar. I would appreciate your response.
jmapscience2 years ago
I want to do this expiriment. I'm just getting into biology and I'm 13 . If any one has tips and tricks on this expiriment ( like agar and equitment) please contact me at jmap2112@gmail.com Looks like a great expiriment thanks for posting it!
drdan152 (author)  jmapscience2 years ago
Hey! So happy to hear your gonna make a bio bulb! How's it going?
ksmith892 years ago
earlier you said "Just FYI I'm experimenting with a new agar to increase bioluminescence ..... It has more nutrients that should support more glowing ..... Calcium carbonate , yeast extract , and glycerol !!!!" so did you ever figure out your new agar? what amounts of the Calcium carbonate , yeast extract , and glycerol do you add to the ager recipe for the homeade ager method #2
qharding2 years ago
Hi. I know its been a long time since anyone has commented but I really need your help I'm currently growing Vibrio Ficheri and I have so many question. Mainly how did you get them to show up in pictures? Please help
drdan152 (author)  qharding2 years ago
HEY! Glad to see people growing bacteria ....haha. Well the best way to take a picture is in a completely dark room and get an SLR camera or any camera that you can adjust the shutter speed. Mount the camera on a stable surface or tripod and set the shutter to stay open for as long as possible...maybe even 30 seconds. I set the timmer so it counts down 5...4...3...2....1 then take the picture so i dont bump the camera and get a blurry shot. BIggest thing is the shutter speed though .....think LONG or SLOW shutter speed and keep the camera steady!
ozzyfast2 years ago
Hi friends,
where can i buy v. fischeri's culture from Europe?

ryan88162 years ago
For anyone who would like to see the Tryptic Soy Agar label on the bottle
nano nite2 years ago
Do u have any idea about biological shops in India where i can find theese bioluminescent bacterias ? Be soon buddy its for my science exibition.
nano nite2 years ago
hey can u give a clear comparison between bioluminescent light bulb and an electrical light bulb ? including all aspects.
dragonito2 years ago
This might be a bit of a stretch... but could a concentrated, sterilized dirt/compost extract combined with digested skim milk (and perhaps some yeast extract) be used to make a suitable photobacterium broth? The digested milk and yeast would amino acids and vitamins, while the dirt extract would provide (trace) minerals. And keeping the bacteria in a continuously agitated medium would also increase the oxygen content, possibly maximizing glow.
drdan152 (author)  dragonito2 years ago
Dude that sounds really cool
..... Not sure it of will work but I think it would be an awesome experiment to see if it does ..... As Bill Nye the Science guy says "TRY IT" !!!!
pchubb3 years ago
Any reason to use tryptic soy agar? I just mixed up agar into lamb broth made by boiling an old bone with a bit of meat on it. I added salt to make it 3% w/w, and I have the bacteria growing well.
drdan152 (author)  pchubb3 years ago
Well to be honest I'm not sure if boiled bone has all the nutrients that photo bacteria need..they are kinda picky eaters...I've noticed that the bacteria will readily GROW in different agar mediums (even polluted ones) but they will only GLOW if they have juuuuust the right conditions and nutrients to support their glowing reactions....thats why it makes such a good "water tester" cause they amount they glow is directly related to how good thier environment is. TSA has tryptones (short chains of amino acids) and other good stuff that fastidious (picky) bacteria like.
pchubb drdan1523 years ago
The colonies are growing and glowing well. It's my experience that most bacteria are not fussy eaters (unlike my ten y-o).
drdan152 (author)  pchubb3 years ago
Oh wow !!!! I'm sorry I thought you meant they were growing but not GLOWING !!!! Excellent !!!! Isn't amazing how glowing bacteria can come from a dead squid !!!! Good job culturing from different areas I only used the left over ink from the bag the squid was in. Can u post a picture of your glowin microbes ???? Would make a cool post for the instructable :-)
pchubb pchubb3 years ago
Oh, and I tried culturing from different parts of the squid. I got nothing from the ink sac, but plenty from the body cavity (inside the `tube' of the squid. Our local squid don't glow.
drdan152 (author)  pchubb3 years ago
Try adding a pinch of powdered calcium carbonate (from a vitamin crushed into a powder...it shoul say on the back "calcium as calcium carbonate") to the medium you made...or maybe a few ml of glycerol for a carbon source?? also try letting your eyes adjust in PURE darkness for 5 min...if you find a glowing colonie , fish it out and reculture it in fresh agar......BUT it may be that the squid was previously frozeon OR you just got a bad egg...or uh squid. DO you have acess to a microscope? If so you can see if the bacteria you grew is indeed the a vibrio species.
pchubb drdan1523 years ago
As I said before, the bacteria cultured from the head and body cavities (under the mantle) are glowing well. It's just that I found no colonies growing from the ink sac.
yellowcatt3 years ago
Great instructable.
It got a mention on the This Week in Microbiology podcast:

drdan152 (author)  yellowcatt3 years ago
REALLY !! thats so awesome i love microbe world hahaha thanks for the info!
Your instructable was mentioned right at the end of podcast 39, when they were reading out the listeners emails, (at 1hour 11minutes and forty seconds)

Vincent Racaniello described it as "really quite amazing".

Aw dude this is awesome i've been trying to grow this for so long and this just simplified it sorry i'm new so I don't know how images work
drdan152 (author)  Mushroom man3 years ago
Sweeeet! Do you have acess to fresh non frozen fish or squid???!
techno guy3 years ago
did the idea for testing water pollution with this come from the idea that the 15 year old who made the cancer test strips had
drdan152 (author)  techno guy3 years ago
No, it's a pretty common experiment with v. fisheri.....i wish i came up with the idea but its been around :-)
FuzzeeDee3 years ago
Can this culture be grown in a liquid culture without going to the final gel step. Was thinking of using long glass tubes bent around and around to create rectangular lighting panels that could circulate fresh medium liquid periodically. Seriously curious. • • • Fuzzee Dee OUT • • • }~{ <> }~{ ^~^ :->
drdan152 (author)  FuzzeeDee3 years ago
Why yes it can ..... You need "photobacterium broth" you can buy it online. But I'm experimenting on how to make it ..... For some reason it's considerably more complex to make a broth than a solid medium. This really only the Begining of this instructable do stay tuned as I add more pictures and more cool stuff to do with the bacteria !!!! Also I know that you can make a bacterial suspension in normal saline for a cool liquid effect but the microbes don't last very long that way
They do market a "tryptic soy broth" which is a liquid mix without the agar, you can use that with the rest of the mix I believe to make a liquid medium.
Kewl, tnx for the info - that will be helpful
f• • • Fuzzee Dee OUT • • • }~{ <> }~{ ^~^ :-> 
You need a shaker if you want to grow a lot of bacteria in liquid broth. Even though they're tiny they'll settle to the bottom of the liquid if you leave them alone. They need to be shaken up to keep them happy.
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