Picture of Grow Your Own Bioluminescent Algae
You may have memories of running after fireflies with hands outstretched on a warm summer evening. You may have even watched some discovery channel documentary on the mysteries of the deep sea and marveled at those 'glowing' organisms featured. Chances are however, you probably haven't heard too much about the plethora of other bioluminescent creatures inhabiting this planet.

Bioluminescence (literally meaning living light) occurs within many living organisms, although, most are relegated to the deep sea. This chemical reaction involves the oxidation of Luciferin (just a name for a class of biological light emitting pigments). While related, the name doesn't come from any devilish origins, but rather the latin 'lucifer' meaning "light bringer".

Depending on the organism, the light can be used for camouflage, attraction, or even communication among bacteria to name a few. Some of the more notable organisms that bioluminesce include fireflies, glow worms, bacteria, a plethora of marine life, and even mushrooms. (Here's a favorite video of mine from planet earth on the glow worm

Today however, we'll focus on a particular light emitting alga known as Pyrocystis fusiformis. These dinoflagellates typically do not occur in high enough concentrations among marine algae to produce a very noticeable glow. However, when the conditions are right (excess nutrients, enough sun, etc) an algal bloom can occur and populations explode.  Chances are you've heard of this phenomenon before which (albeit not involving this particular organism) is also known as a Red Tide.

Here's a video of one such concentration in a bay in australia. They are simply throwing water into the bay as the algae only luminesce when disturbed. A popular theory is that the light is used to attract predators of the grazers of dinoflagellates.  Case et al. (1995) demonstrated that the feeding rate of squid of mysids in the dark increases significantly when bioluminescent dinoflagellates are present.

There is even a bay in Puerto Rico full of the stuff which people can kayak in.

With a little luck and a LOT of patience, you can grow your own bioluminscent algae at home.
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NavamiJ4 months ago

Hi, can the bioluminescence be measured using a regular photmeter? If so, what is the best method to measure their light output?


J.W.N.R.3 years ago
Won't the algae culture be stressed to death by the movement, if an air pump is installed in their container.

I would like to know this as well.

amsisi1310 months ago

Hello, I was wondering if it would be at all possible to grow this outside? Thank you!

ojulian11 year ago
I would like to try glow habitat w planctin in like fish tank above that perferated PVC w luminescent fungi alga small trees glow worms maybe florescent fish or two. A whole greenhouse eco glow habit. I found company working on bioluminescent plants for home green lighting. Maybe a frog that is glow too. Do u think all could live in same inviroment
mrg02d1 year ago
I ordered from empco and got a bottle of "dead" algae. I only get about one or two cells flashing at a time at night. Can these live cells repopulate the bottle? Empco customer service is a complete joke....Rarely answer emails and only give vague responses when they do. Any help?
mschoor mrg02d1 year ago
hello, They should continue to grow if given proper light cycle and temp. If not check out algabiotic research technologies on ebay or lots of strains with great prices and nice people
That looks so amazing and fun
BunnyRoger1 year ago
Love the blue, looks so so creapy actually.
Very cool!!
MAApleton1 year ago
Super cool idea. Thanks, another one for my favorites list.
How much light does the algae really need? I'd love to grow some but I don't have a place to keep them that I would consider more than "low light" and a lamp isn't really an option.
kcamilleri2 years ago
HI i need to buy the micro algae grow to try this experiment for a school assignment and when i tried to access this site: it isn't opening an error is coming up. I would highly appreciate it if you could give me an alternative of from where to buy it. Thanks a lot
i know one word to describe it, CREEPY
this algae is really awesome but unfortunately it refuses to grow! :-(

i ordered some pyrocystis fusiformis from empco and tried to make my own growth medium. i emptied fresh bottles of mineral water, filled them with destilled water and added sea salt until it reached a density of ca. 1025 kg/m3 (at 25°C). finally i added some nutritions. they are not the same as in the article since i had to buy them in germany, but they are f/2 as well.

unfortunately, in my mixed media, the algae dies within a single day! now, the empco starter culture is nearly empty and i really need some good ideas about what is going wrong.

could a lack of co2 let them die that fast? the starter culture is living for a month now in it's bottle without air pump and everything. what about salinity? it's not that sensible, is it? or maybe ph? is destilled water a good choice?

any ideas whats going wrong?!?
thanks a lot!
Now I got a new batch of algae from Empco and it's working fine so far! :-)

I changed a few things in the protocol: First, I used "Micro Algae Grow" this time.

Second, and I think this is important, I started each experiment with a small portion of algae and added only a little bit of growth medium every few hours. This is to avoid osmosis through a a sudden change in salt levels. This might have been the problem last time.
How much algae did you add to what quantity of water and how long did it take after diluting the algae for it to reach the same brightness?
The amount of algae was dependent on how much I had. Could be everything between a few tablespoons and half a bottle. And then I started adding water (with nutritions), but only the tenth part or something (sometimes only a few drops). Then gradually more. When I can be sure that both levels of salt are similar I put in a lot of water (like same amount as the algae itself).

I have the impression that my algae is growing pretty slow. It can takes weeks until it reaches the same density as before.
For one I agree with kholland, and remember its not the replication of the organisms environment that matters in these kind of experiments. What you are trying to achieve is growth of a species, so you want to achieve perfect conditions for growth, i.e. the perfect environment, not their usual one. So hell make a CO2 generator and make sure you use that algae grow! I'll be trying to grow the same species in a month or two so that's what I'll be doing as I've perfected growing freshwater algae with the method above.
Hope I helped,
Long reply time, but the problem is your salt... you want 35ppt... I.e. 35 grams of salt for every liter of water.

I realize 1025 kg/m3 is the density of sea water, but, I think you will get better results measuring that way rather then doing it based on density....

Additionally, I wouldn't use distilled water, ideally, I would just get fresh water from a source (nearby streams, which will already have some salt) and then add salt to 35ppt.
boost-673 years ago
once grown, can this be used in a regular salt water tank?
I don't see why not. They aren't going to hurt the fish since they likely coexist in the wild. I think the difficulty would be the day/night cycle and if there's any kind of constant agitation, they'd wear out or have a short lifespan.
I would also like to know this.
maliksudhir3 years ago
Hi ,
Can any one help me out in some calculation work its really very urgent , please help me out ..... i need to consume 1932.3kg/hr of CO2 with the help of Algae in a pond (water) for example Raceway pond , so i need to know the specific area to construct that pond and its sizing and dimension (length,etc) and the quantity of water needed and amount of algae used so that it easily consumes the mentioned amount of CO2 rate per hour..... please help me out soon you can also drop your suggestion and questions if any my email id is : ....i will be waiting for your reply soon and i'll be highly thankful to you, if someone can help please do tell me its very urgent....

Thank you
Matt Carl3 years ago
Anyone else remember these from the book Deception Point by Dan Brown? Great book :D
One comment about the different species: I ordered all three from Empco. In my experience Pyrocystis lunula is the one with the highest density, which is much more robust than the others and by far the brightest. So I can highly recommend these!
Congrats! And thanks for the suggestion, I'm ordering some now and wasn't sure which species to get
187inc4 years ago
i sail through red tide all the time. if you happen to be sitting on your boat at night in red tide, flush your toilet, the water is drawn from below the boat, water swirls around all blue while it flushes! haha i hear your not supposed to swim in it though, something about breeding plankton and ear infections. i cant remember. but hey, lets throw some in our bong and see what happens.
I'm rolling. I'm so happy right now.
I just want to buy some Pyrocystic Fusiform culture and use it for a simple science project. Is it absolutely necessary to grow them, or can I just use the flasks?
ScaryBunnyMan (author)  breakspeare8324 years ago
You don't have to grow them... the cultures that you get when you buy them last a surprisingly long time
Thanks, I was really worried that I was going to have to get all of the other equipment required. I will probably still just grow some for fun, but not for the project.
pyrosine4 years ago
If the algae only illuminates a certain amount, and then needs a recharge time - what happens when it rains? This is in the case of the giant bio-luminescent algae lakes
lazer1554 years ago
How do you know when the culture needs to be split into another bottle? Does the water need to be cleaned every once in awhile?
Byron4 years ago
Any idea where I can get some bioluminescent algae in New Zealand
davej66944 years ago
sunnyside isn't picking up the phone and empco's phone goes straight to message machine is there any other place to buy this stuff?
TheSniper4 years ago
Hey, would it be possible to add these to a garden and to use a small pump, not very fast or violent, but just enough to get them to glow? I was thinking to let this go on at night to make a sort of display and add some vitality to the garden. Tell me what you think. Is it too much for the algae? Thanks!
Odd enough, i wrote about that in a short story! it sounds ok, maybe distribute it through a light sprinkler?
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