Fireflies Light Up Hope for Coronary Heart Disease Patients

By Leyla

Photo credit: Art Farmer

If you ask most people what connection there is between the human heart and fireflies, they probably won’t have any idea what you’re talking about.  If you ask Steven Ebert, a professor at the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences in the College of Medicine, however, he’ll tell you that fireflies may one day help America tackle its problem with coronary heart disease.

Over 17.6 million people in the U.S. suffer from coronary heart disease and it is the main killer of human beings in the country. As a matter of fact, coronary heart disease affects 30% of people worldwide. Coronary heart disease is caused by a buildup of detrimental substances in the arteries, or blood vessels that transport blood away from the heart.  These substances include calcium, fatty material, and plaque. This prevents proper blood circulation in the cardiac muscle. However, a man named Steven Ebert has recently engineered “firefly” stem cells that may help to fix this problem.

These stem cells contain the enzymes that make fireflies glow, and the stem cells have the potential to allow surgeons to fix heart problems without performing actual surgery. The way the enzymes work within in the stem cells is by glowing brighter and brighter as the heart grows stronger and stronger. This way, it will be easier for doctors to keep an eye on the heart as it heals. However, researchers need to confirm exactly how these stem cells help to fix cardiac tissue. Even still, there is a strong possibility that these stem cells will one day significantly improve the lives of people with heart disease all around the world.  

How do the enzymes help the fireflies to glow, and why do the fireflies glow in the first place? How do stem cells work to fix the body’s organs?

  • Sabrina

    Very intriguing post Leyla! I was unaware as to how close the fireflies DNA could be related to help the Human heart! Based on the question how do stem cells work to fix the body’s organs, stem cells future is undetermined. They’re used when needed and are pluripotent which means they can help every cell, organ, or tissue in the human body. Also, like no other cell the stem cell can reproduce or make up any other cells going up to 220 different cells. They’re two different types of stem cells called embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. To read more about them you can check out this really fascinating website:
    Enzymes help the fireflies to glow because they have a special chemical called Bioluminescence. Bioluminescence is defined as “the process where in light is produced by a chemical reaction which originates in the organism”. Bioluminescence is a very uncommon chemical because it’s usually found in sea creatures deep in the sea; Bioluminescence is their alternative to light. Fireflies however, glow for many different reasons. They glow to lure in prey, discourage predators and most importantly to find or attract mates.

  • dawood

    Nice post leyla. i never knew that fireflies were such amazing creatures. In the summer i used to see them outside my house all the time. I did a little reaserch about fireflies in general and i found out that fireflies usually emit light to atract mates, but they also use light to warn predators to stay away from them. In most fireflies both the male and the female can emit light,but there are also a few types of fireflies in which only one sex can glow.


  • dawood

    Hey again. I forgot to add this to my other post. I also found out that fireflies are sometimes calles cold lights because they are the most efficient lights in the world. 100% of their energy is emitted as light. Compared to fireflies the lightbulbs that we use are a joke. an incandescent bulbs emit 10% of light, and 90% gets converted into heat, and florescent lightbulbs emit 90% light and 10% is converted into heat. The fire flies do not emit any heat as they light up, and in the pars people have used fireflies in the mines instead of fire or lightbulbs, because they emit light without emiting heat


  • Sara

    Very interesting topic Leyla! I researched if stem cells could work to fix any other parts of the body and there’s actually a study researchers are working on that maybe stem cells can be used to repair damaged brain cells (Parkinson’s disease). Parkinson’s disease is when there is gradual loss of brain cells in part of the brain called the substantia niagra. The affect of this on humans is shaking of hands, slow movement, stiffness, and no balance. Researchers have done tests on rats with Parkinson’s disease. They placed stem cells in the brains of the rats. There was actually an improvement in the rats health and new nerve cells were produced in the brain. Scientists and Researchers are hoping to apply this procedure to humans soon enough!

    For more information:

  • Andrea

    I really like this topic, Leyla. The same chemical that fireflies use to glow, is also used in spacecrafts in outer space so that they can detect life. To add on to what Dawood and Sabrina said, fireflies have been glowing since they were in the egg and larvae stages. Fireflies can also be carnivores and eat worms and snails as a larvae, and other fireflies, pollen, or nectar as an adult. But usually fireflies don’t even have time to eat. They only live to an adult so that they can reproduce.

  • Taylor

    At first when I saw this on the homepage it immediately caught my eye. I personally take an interest in disease and medical conditions, however, I’m no fan of insects. After reading your post I felt so enriched, that i decided to research fireflies. I was most interested in how they glow in the first place. I found out that they have special light organs under their abdomen. Neurobiologist Dr. Barry A. Trimmer, said that, “The secret it nitric oxide,” which are compounds on the periodic table of elements. This is a dissolved gas that lets the firefly’s nervous system switch on its flash of light. Most firelies produce short, rhythmic flashes. Many people notice over the summer, in the warm climate, have firefly’s flying around in the backyard, with the flashing green or orange light. It only last about a second or so. I found some other great facts on this website:
    Not only did i take a liking to the firefly’s lantern, but I also researched stem cells. Stem cells are primarily used to repair body tissues, cells, and organs. In recent studies, In a laboratory study, researchers stimulated a heart attack in rats so that rodent embryonic stem cells can be injected into the rats’ damaged hearts. Eventually, the stem cells renewed the rats’ damaged muscle tissue and improved the function of their hearts. It is done the same way with humans, injecting embryonic stem cells into the patient’s body. Now, researchers are studying how stem cells can repair brain damage. If you want to know more about that look at this website:

  • Aurora

    Great post Leyla! I really found it interesting how such a major heart disease can have a connection with such a common insect. I think how Dr. Ebert was able to construct stem cells using what makes fireflies glow is a major breakthrough. I did a little research and found that the main chemical that produces the light is an enzyme called luciferase. Also, when fireflies light up, they tend to flash their light by means of communicating with one another. However, there are other species that tend to mimic the flashing to attract prey.

  • gabby

    Great post!! I did some research on the risk factors of coronary heart diesease and i found out thatmen have a greater chance of getting this deisease and that African Americans have higher blood presure than any other reace. You also could have a high risk of getting heart diesease if you smoke, especially tabocco. Some things you could do to prevent heart disease is exercising daily adn eating right. Hope that helps!!!!!!!!!!!;jsessionid=GLKRXZYWDM1YICQFCXQCCZQ?identifier=4726

  • Joe

    Leyla, I absolutely love your post, it is so intriguing and something I feel very strongly on. I am a strong supporter of stem cell research and am particularly fascinated, at how far this specific technology has come, within a decade from the start of its research. The discovery of using a reprogrammed skin cell as an embryonic cell is the basis of such future medicine, like the example you presented in your post. I learned that these reprogrammed cells can be made and manipulated into any tissue and/or organ. For example: they can replace parts of the skin that have been damaged with new skin. There was also a great discovery by the Tufts university, in which they changed the voltage of a membrane, of cells so they developed melanoma growths. This study shows other great uses of the stem cell, one being curing cancer. The scientists at tuft university found that by examining these cancerous cells and the mechanism of there function they can learn to prevent tumor growth and cure cancer.
    I have the science journal were the report was posted and an article on the discovery of stem cells.

  • Ali

    Awesome post Leyla! Turns out as Auroura mentioned, Some types of female Fireflies, such as the Photuris firefly, emit the glowing enzyme as a predator-like use to mimic mating signs. Male Fireflies are then attracted to them and soon after are eaten by the Photuris. for this reason, the Photuris is called the Femme Fatale firefly. Fireflies produce the “Glowing Enzyme” from the chemical called Bioluminescence, a rare element found mostly in deep sea fish such as the Angel Fish (remember Finding Nemo?). Scientists at the University of Central Florida have studied on the stem cells regarding healing. Turns out that as the heart gets stronger, the light glows brighter due to its health. Therefore, scientists predict based on results, which specify that stem cells morph into organs at an unknown rate, this new way of medical prodedures can save about 17.6 million people with diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease without having to cut anyone chest open, which lead tho an inference that this procedure might be affordable.


  • Joe

    I was watching the news and heard something about stem cells and thought back immediately to this post. The first stem cell surgery to a spinal cord was performed today in Emory Hospital. A 58 year old man diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), sometimes called Lou Gehrig’s disease has undergone neurological stem cell surgery. ALS is a rapidly progressive neurological disease that attacks your nerve cells responsible for voluntary muscle movement. The disease can be fatal and has no cure. This surgery, is the first to ever take place, in the world and can be a cure to this horrible disease. The surgeons who performed the surgery injected 50,000 fetal stem cells into the spinal cord in hopes of repairing the nerve cells. This is the perfect example of how stem cells like in Leyla’s post are being used to cure horrific diseases. If you would like to find more about Als i have attached a website with information and the article with the groundbreaking discovery.

  • Science in a flash at

    [...] stem cells containing enzymes that allow a firefly to glow may be able to help doctors fight coronary heart [...]

  • Noa

    Great post Leyla! This topic interested me a lot so I decided to do some more research on why fireflies glow. I found out that they glow to attract mates, and when they would flicker back and forth to each other and flash signals with their lights, it was their way of communicating. Also, every firefly has their own pattern of communication. For example, one firefly could start glowing and make a J-shape with the light, and that could mean they’re hungry. Males would try to impress the females by giving their best flash, and if the females are interested they would flash back their best.

    Another reason they glow is to protect themselves from predators. Inside fireflies is this disgusting chemical called lucibufagens and once predators taste it they start associating fireflies with the disgusting taste. In conclusion, fireflies need their glow to succeed in their biological goal of surviving and reproducing. The glow helps them stay safe and not get eaten (surviving), and it’s what they use to mate, which leads to reproduction.

  • Andrea

    I found Joe’s comment very interesting and decided to do more research on it. The disease that the people that have this disease can eventually permanently shut down the body’s muscles. The stem cells replaced the damaged nerve cells in the spinal cord and are starting to slow down and hopefully eventually cure the disease. I found that the man that had the stem cell surgery had to volunteer to undergo the surgery because it had never been conducted before and no one knew if it was going to work. But so far, Conley, (the man who had the surgery that was mentioned in the article), was the only person out of seven other individuals to be able to walk again after the surgery. There’s more information on the topic in the link below:

  • Monica

    Wow Leyla I really enjoyed your post. To answer your question, “How do stem cells work to fix the body’s organs?” embryonic stem cells are like “starter cells” that can be manipulated into becoming a variety of other cells. The fact that embryonic stem cells develop into specialized cells that create bones nerves and tissue makes them unlike any other cell known to man. Scientists believe that because embryonic stem cells develop into a range of other types of cells, they may be used in the near future to treat a wide range of diseases and injuries. A brief list of the diseases or injuries that embryonic stem cells may someday be used to treat include Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer’s disease, strokes, skin burns, arthritis, birth defects, diabetes and as you mentioned heart disease
    To answer your other question, fireflies glow in the first place to attract a mate. Male and female fireflies will flash signals back and forth as a way of communication. Each firefly species has its own particular pattern. For example, the fireflies of one species will fly around in the night sky and dive steeply just as the flash begins and turn upward to make a distinctive J-shaped pattern of light. Female fireflies hang out on a tree branch or in the grass while the males fly around showing off their best flashes. When a female recognizes the flash from a male of the same species, she will answer with her best flash.
    Another reason that fireflies glow is to avoid predators. Fireflies are filled with a nasty tasting chemical called lucibufagens, and after a predator gets a mouthful, it quickly learns to associate the firefly’s glow with this bad taste!

    Research from this post can be found on:

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