In the calcium-activated photoprotein aequorin, light is produced by the oxidation of coelenterazine, the luciferin used by at least seven marine phyla. However, despite extensive research on photoproteins, there has been no evidence to indicate the origin of coelenterazine within the phylum Cnidaria. Here we report that the hydromedusa Aequorea victoria is unable to produce its own coelenterazine and is dependent on a dietary supply of this luciferin for bioluminescence. Although they contain functional apophotoproteins, medusae reared on a luciferin-free diet are unable to produce light unless provided with coelenterazine from an external source. This evidence regarding the origins of luciferin in Cnidaria has implications for the evolution of bioluminescence and for the extensive use of coelenterazine among marine organisms.
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