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Bioluminescence can cause photosynthesis, it has been confirmed. But is it feasible to grow algae, or some other plant, by the light of bioluminescence alone?

Is it technically feasible with existing animals? The best I could find for data was this article about fireflies. It suggests you need 35,000 to get the effect of a lightbulb. Ideally, we'd want to work out what lux bioluminescence is capable of producing.

Theoretically, the best way to work this out is to work out the optimal output of luciferin in a lab, then work out how well an animal could replicate that. But, so far, I'm having difficulty finding any study on the potential brightness of luciferin.

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    $\begingroup$ Where do the bioluminescent organisms get their food? Presumably there's outside energy entering your system from somewhere? - else physics breaks. You already seem to have answered "is it possible?", feasibility would depend on how the rest of you ecosystem works, ie. where the energy comes from as base. Can you tell us about that? $\endgroup$ – Draft 85 Dec 26 '20 at 23:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Tantalus'touch. In my case, I was thinking mermaids would feed the creatures. Possibly to produce oxygen rather than food. $\endgroup$ – Johnny Dec 26 '20 at 23:46
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Feasible, yes. Useful? No. While it is certainly possible, it is pointless to grow an organism on bioluminescence, as bioluminescence itself is just when an organism gets energy from somewhere and converts it to light. These types of conversions are extremely inefficient and are a terrible method of energy management. Just like it takes 10 times more energy to produce a volume of meat than the same amount of plants, converting energy to light and then back again would be awfully wasteful. So why do it? As mentioned in the comments, it would make a lot more sense to direct whatever energy intended for bioluminescence towards the algae itself. But I don't know. Maybe mermaids like pretty lights. If you really want to grow algae this way, it could be done. According to this article, the brightest bioluminescent creature is the headlight elater, a type of beetle, at 45 milliamberts, or about 0.15 Lux. About 500 Lux is the minimum for photosynthesis, so we'd need about 3,500 more. I would estimate that the surface area of the light emitting organs are about 10 mm^2, so you'd need 0.035m^2 of light emitters per meter of algae. Not so bad! Tell your mermaids to start collecting beetles.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, Raf. I also found an article on algae, which you may find interesting (using algae to grow algae would be pretty funny....). Presumably, bioluminescent fish or other organisms could be bred brighter, and you could use them in a symbiotic farming arrangement like pigs and chickens. Thanks again for the great sources. One neat thing I found is that bioluminescent creatures are more efficient for photosynthesis, since their wavelength is more in the blue-green part of the spectrum. $\endgroup$ – Johnny Dec 27 '20 at 4:48
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Managed to find something. 1 litre of Lingulodinium, a type of dinoflagellate, will produce 17,113.98 lux. 1 ml can produce 17 lux. I wasn't able to find anything for larger organisms, though Rafael thankfully found something.

It is generally wasteful, unless you wanted the glowing fish in the first place, to look at or eat. Though, like pigs, it can be a form of recycling.

Source: https://mediatum.ub.tum.de/doc/1169250/1169250.pdf

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