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Living Organism Care Guide: Bioluminescent Dinoflagellates

Living Care Information

Pyrocystis fusiformis,
Pyrocystis lunula

commonly known as firefly of the sea

Quick Start Information

  • As soon as your dinoflagellate culture arrives, open the shipping container, remove the jar, and inspect for damage that may have occurred during the shipping process.

  • Set up your fluorescent lamp and timer with a cycle of 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark. This is essential for recovering bioluminescence lost during shipping.

  • Loosen the lid on the jar and place the jar under the light.

  • After you have observed bioluminescence, you may transfer your dinoflagellates to a new container with additional culture media such as our Bioluminescent Dinoflagellate Medium .

About the Organism

  • Our dinoflagellates are members of the genus Pyrocystis. Pyrocystis is derived from two Latin roots—pyro, meaning fire, and cystis, meaning hollow sac or cavity.
  • Aristotle wrote of bioluminescent creatures in De Anima and other writings.
  • The expression of bioluminescence in algae is thought to have evolved as a defense mechanism to avoid being eaten.
  • Bodies of water where bioluminescent dinoflagellates bloom are popular tourist attractions in many parts of the world.
  • Members of the genus Pyrocystis are non-motile and float at depths between 80 and 100 meters.
  • Domain: Eukarya
  • Phylum: Dinoflagellata
  • Order: Gonyaulacales
  • Suborder: Goniodomineae
  • Family: Pyrocystaceae
  • Genus: Pyrocystis
  • Species: fusiformis or lunula

Preparation

As soon as your culture arrives, open the shipping container, remove the jar, and inspect the culture for damage that may have occurred during the shipping process. Maintain at normal room temperature (65 to 75° F, 18 to 24° C). Avoid rapid temperature fluctuations.

Be aware that your culture may need a week or more to recover bioluminescent ability after it has been shipped. Simply moving the culture from light to dark is not sufficient for it to recover bioluminescence, as the chemical reaction is related to the organisms’ circadian rhythm. You will need to reestablish a circadian rhythm to recover bioluminescence before manipulating or diluting your culture. This process can take a week or more to complete, depending on the conditions your culture experienced during shipping.

Housing

To induce and observe bioluminescence, you will need a space devoid of ambient light and equipped with a cool white fluorescent bulb and a lamp timer. Choose a bulb with a luminous intensity of 200-400 foot candles. We use 75 watt equivalent CFL bulbs in our dinoflagellate lab. Suspend the lamp approximately 14" from the culture. Do not use an incandescent bulb, as this can generate excess heat that damages the culture.

Feeding

Though dinoflagellates do not consume other organisms, they do need a balanced media to maintain health. We recommend:

Maintaining and culturing

We maintain dinoflagellate cultures using 12-hour cycles of light and dark. The light cycle occurs from 8 pm to 8 am (EST), and the dark cycle from 8 am to 8 pm (EST). This allows for convenient study of the bioluminescent trait within a traditional classroom schedule. If you want to alter this schedule, it may take several weeks for the organisms to adjust and begin to show bioluminescence again.

Note: Bioluminescence can only be observed during the dark portion of the cycle and is most evident 1 to 2 hours after the dark portion of the cycle begins. It is best to observe bioluminescence in a completely darkened room.

To induce bioluminescence, gently shake the culture jar to agitate its contents. The individual dinoflagellates should give off brief flashes of bright, blue-green light. The dinoflagellates will not glow constantly, and the glow will fade as the culture is agitated multiple times within the same dark cycle. Allow the culture to recharge with a light cycle before attempting to observe bioluminescence again. If you have been unable to observe bioluminescence after 10 days of light cycles, please contact our technical support team.

Once you verify the culture has recovered bioluminescence, we recommend that you transfer the culture to a 250-mL Erlenmeyer flask containing a fresh preparation of medium. To prepare the culture flask, add 150 mL of Bioluminescent Dinoflagellate Medium. Add the dinoflagellate culture to the flask, and cap or cover it using a foam plug or lab film.

As the dinoflagellates reproduce, the bioluminescent glow will intensify. A healthy dinoflagellate culture should be divided every 3 to 4 weeks. To divide a culture, pour 150 mL of fresh medium into a clean Erlenmeyer flask. Then pour approximately half of the culture needing division into the fresh medium preparation, and cover the mouth of the flask. Replace the volume poured from the parent flask with fresh medium.

Disposal

Carolina provides living organisms for educational purposes only. As a general policy, we do not advocate the release of organisms into the environment. In some states, it is illegal to release organisms, even indigenous species, without a permit. The intention of these laws is to protect native wildlife and the environment.

We suggest that organisms be:

  • Maintained in the classroom.
  • Donated to another classroom or science department.
  • With parental permission, adopted or taken home by students
  • Donated to a nature center or zoo.
  • Disposed of humanely, as a last resort.

Biosafety

No biosafety information applies for this organism.

Video

FAQs

My dinoflagellate culture isn’t glowing. What can I do?

This is not abnormal. The shipping process and any adjustments to the light/dark cycle may interfere with the dinoflagellate’s ability to express the bioluminescent trait. If your culture has not shown bioluminescence after cycling for 10 days, contact our technical support team.

When is the best time to observe bioluminescence in the culture?

At least 30 minutes after the culture’s dark cycle begins.

I need more medium. What can I use?

You can use our Bioluminescent Dinoflagellate Medium or Alga-Gro® Seawater.

Can I alter the light/dark cycle of my culture?

Yes, the cycle can be altered. It can take several weeks for the culture to begin to glow again once the established cycle has been changed.

Need help?

We want you to have a good experience. Orders and replacements: 800.334.5551, then select Customer Service. Technical support and questions: caresheets@carolina.com

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