Biophotonics research

Slide Chaetopterus (parchment tube worm) in brightfield and in bioluminescence Slide Fluorescent swell shark Slide Slide Slide


Organisms can produce visible light, which is often associated with deep sea living creatures where it is abundant. However, many luminous organisms also show their magical display at night. We study luminous organism to understand the chemical reaction that leads to the production of visible light. Not many of such reactions are currently described, and there is a good incentive to discover more about how to make “biological light” for many different applications for biotechnology where light is used as a tracer but also quantum energy and biophotonic research.



Many organisms produce glowing light (often green in color) when exposed to a UV or blue light source. We study this phenomenon of fluorescence following two research topics:

  1. We try to isolate the compound (molecules or proteins) able to convert the light from blue to green (but also other colors), which has attractive properties in biotechnology and biomedicine.
  2. We also study the life history of the fluorescence and assess how it changes with stressful environmental conditions (related to climate change and/or chemical exposure). We therefore use the change of fluorescence as a proxy of organisms health in a change ecosystem.



Early in his career, Dr. Deheyn studied chromophores, the components of a molecule that are responsible for color. Dr. Deheyn discovered new chromophores capable of producing light through chemiluminescence and fluorescence. He also identified proteins that use chromophores to produce visible light.

The green fluorescent protein was originally described in jellyfish. Dr. Deheyn’s research on chromophores led to the discovery of new green fluorescent proteins in unexpected organisms, such as the fish-like marine chordate Amphioxus.

Current research has identified new proteins, new chromophores and new biochemistry involved in light production. These discoveries have promising applications for emerging light production technology. In particular, we are assessing chromophores for their quantum yield as well as band gap. Our particular interest is to look for chromophores in Nature with large band gaps thus emitting fluorescence light in the far end of the visible spectrum, but also chromophores with high quantum yields in absorbing UV light.


Biophotonics materials

Some luminous organisms use calcified structures (ossicles, shells, teeth) to scatter or diffuse their light production. Another aspect of the Deheyn lab’s research is the study of these biophotonic materials in calcium carbonate based organisms. However, this also includes biophotonic materials that are transparent/translucent, and/or structural features that help diffuse light and color output homogeneously across a surface.