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Microbiol Rev. 1991 March; 55(1): 123–142.
PMCID: PMC372803

Molecular biology of bacterial bioluminescence.


The cloning and expression of the lux genes from different luminescent bacteria including marine and terrestrial species have led to significant advances in our knowledge of the molecular biology of bacterial bioluminescence. All lux operons have a common gene organization of luxCDAB(F)E, with luxAB coding for luciferase and luxCDE coding for the fatty acid reductase complex responsible for synthesizing fatty aldehydes for the luminescence reaction, whereas significant differences exist in their sequences and properties as well as in the presence of other lux genes (I, R, F, G, and H). Recognition of the regulatory genes as well as diffusible metabolites that control the growth-dependent induction of luminescence (autoinducers) in some species has advanced our understanding of this unique regulatory mechanism in which the autoinducers appear to serve as sensors of the chemical or nutritional environment. The lux genes have now been transferred into a variety of different organisms to generate new luminescent species. Naturally dark bacteria containing the luxCDABE and luxAB genes, respectively, are luminescent or emit light on addition of aldehyde. Fusion of the luxAB genes has also allowed the expression of luciferase under a single promoter in eukaryotic systems. The ability to express the lux genes in a variety of prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms and the ease and sensitivity of the luminescence assay demonstrate the considerable potential of the widespread application of the lux genes as reporters of gene expression and metabolic function.

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