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Luminous Creatures

The History and Science of Light Production in Living Organisms

by (author) Michel Anctil

McGill-Queen's University Press
Initial publish date
May 2018
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    May 2018
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  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    May 2018
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Naturalists in antiquity worked hard to dispel fanciful ideas about the meaning of living lights, but remained bewildered by them. Even Charles Darwin was perplexed by the chaotic diversity of luminous organisms, which he found difficult to reconcile with his evolutionary theory. It fell to naturalists and scientists to make sense of the dazzling displays of fireflies and other organisms. In Luminous Creatures Michel Anctil shows how mythical perceptions of bioluminescence gradually gave way to a scientific understanding of its mechanisms, functions, and evolution, and to the recognition of its usefulness for biomedical and other applied fields. Following the rise of the modern scientific method and the circumnavigations and oceanographic expeditions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, biologists began to realize the diversity of bioluminescence's expressions in light organs and ecological imprints, and how widespread it is on the planet. By the end of the nineteenth century an understanding of the chemical nature and physiological control of the phenomenon was at hand. Technological developments led to an explosion of knowledge on the ecology, evolution, and molecular biology of bioluminescence. Luminous Creatures tracks these historical events and illuminates the lives and the trail-blazing accomplishments of the scientists involved. It offers a unique window into the awe-inspiring, phantasmagorical world of light-producing organisms, viewed from the perspectives of casual observers and scientists alike.

About the author

Michel Anctil is honorary professor of biology at Université de Montréal and author of Dawn of the Neuron: The Early Struggles to Trace the Origin of Nervous Systems and Luminous Creatures: The History and Science of Light Production in Living Organisms.

Michel Anctil's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"Engagingly written and informative, Luminous Creatures covers the history of observations and research in connection with the phenomenon of bioluminescence through the ages, providing the reader not only with a chronology of scientific advances in the field but also with glimpses into the lives of some of the key researchers of living lights." Victor Benno Meyer-Rochow, Research Institute of Luminous Organisms, Hachijojima, Tokyo

"A fresh and welcome perspective on bioluminescence knowledge, especially before the Second World War, Luminous Creatures provides a window into the evolution of a fascinating aspect of natural history through recorded time." James Morin, Cornell University

"Luminous Creatures provides an unparalleled holistic narrative of the development of oceanography as a scientific practice, the characters that drove the efforts, and the animals that they studied. [It] is profoundly well researched, is scientifically ac

"This book is as much about the "luminaries" behind the major finds about light-producing organisms as the organisms themselves, and that in large part is why it is such a compelling read. Recommended." Choice

"This work highlights how small the historiography of marine biology still is and how much space for expansion is available; Anctil is the first to tell many of these stories." Journal of the History of Biology

"Enlightenment is the through-line in Michel Anctil's intelligent new book on the history and science of light production in living organisms. After all, what is science, if not a journey from the darkness into the light? A probing of the mysteries of nat

Other titles by Michel Anctil