May 14

bioluminescent algae

glowing algae pyrocystis fusiformis

They can't be agitated this hard constantly

glowing algae pyrocystis fusiformis

just tapping the table



pyrocystis fusiformis is a bioluminescent algae, a dinoflagellate to be specific. They emit blue-green light  when disturbed ie. the wake of ships, waves breaking on the shore, or when something moves in the water. It is thought the reason they do this is to attract secondary predators, something to eat what is eating them. They are found in many places but most notably bioluminescent Bay in Puerto Rico http://biobay.com/ .


You can get your very own from http://empco.org/edu/ . They like temperatures between 65°F and 75°F. I keep mine at a steady 72°F, thanks to a little engineering. If kept in moderate light during the day they should last a month without care. If you dilute the culture with new growth medium (fertilized salt water) they can be kept indefinitely. In the wild blooms usual happen after a rainfall. Rain waters carry nutrients into the ocean promoting growth. This also dilutes the saltwater, and it turns out algae actually favor a salt level a little lower than average seawater 20 -24 g/l vs the average 35 g/l. They can tolerate cold better than the heat. The following link will tell you almost everything you need to know.    http://www.fao.org/docrep/003/W3732E/w3732e06.htm


The second link is f/2 growth medium, Empco uses L1 but there isn't much difference, just some trace minerals. This is enough for 2,645 gallons! for $20, just add saltwater.  You wont need the pack with silicate, diatoms use the silicate to build a shell; but these algae don't have a shell. Also you can buy premixed saltwater at aquarium stores, just make sure they didn't add anything for algae control. Then dilute it with RO water. Ready for some math?

Seawater is 35g/L we need to know how much water to add to make our solution 24g/L. It will be easier to work with percentages.

1mL of water weighs one gram so our liter weighs 1000g. So the original solution is 35g salt to 1000g of water, That's 3.5%. Our final solution should be 24g salt to 1000g of water, and that's 2.5%

The Formula for dilution is:

original concentration * original mass = final concentration * final mass

3.5% * 1000g  = 2.4% * final mass       << plug it in

.035 * 1000g  = .024 * final mass          << move the decimal 2 places left

35g  = .024 * final mass                          << do the multiplication

35g / .024 = final mass                           << divide both sides by .024

1458g  =  final mass                                << new mass and  1mL water weighs 1g ... so

The final volume will be 1.458 Liters

Answer: You need to add 458mL to every Liter of premixed saltwater.






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  1. Damen Nix

    Just to sum up the care they need:

    Temp = 65°F to 75°F << most sensitive to overheating
    Ph = 8 << most algae can tolerate a wide rang
    Salinity = 2.4% – 3.4%
    nutrients = f/2 or L1 formula
    Lighting = moderate << direct sunlight will overheat small containers

    At around 4 weeks they will start depleting necessary nutrients. Empco suggests either changing 50% of the growth media or diluting the culture 4:1 with new media. If your trying to maintain a dense culture, they probably don’t need to be diluted that much, I’ll experiment with this.

    abrupt changes in any of these factors should be avoided, just like with fish they will go into shock

  2. Alan Joshua Greenspan

    So Empco.org really rips people off when they sell 500ml bottles of L1 for $20

    And for how long under constant agitation would the algae illuminate until you notice they are weak and no longer emit a strong light and need to sleep again? Is it determined on the amount of algae you have?
    Say did you try playing with them for an hour?
    Did you try putting them under a speaker so they would light up to the vibrations of music?
    Can you and let us know the results?
    I live in Israel so I have been waiting several months for a permit to import them! :(
    I should have bought them when I was living in the states to experiment!

  3. Damen Nix

    The time they can light depends on how healthy the culture is. You can notice a decrease in light quick I’d say a minute maybe. But they can sustain lower light under more gentle agitation much longer. I think maybe the harsh agitation is actually damaging cells, not just fatigue.

    I don’t think there L1 is a ripoff, if I was running lab work or something it would be nice to know it was 100% pure and guaranteed. But for tinkering around its not necessary.

    The speaker would work, because I yelled at the side of the tank and a few of them went off. They desensitize though, the more you mess with them the more it takes to get them to light. If they have been undisturbed for several hours walking through the room can light them up. you’d need to balance the size of the culture so that not all of the cells are getting agitated at once, to get the duty cycle up so to speak.

  4. Damen Nix

    I don’t think empco ships overseas, because the algae does not last with the temperature fluctuations experience in shipping that far and several days in complete darkness. There is someone else in Europe that sells them though

  5. Alan Joshua Greenspan

    thanks for the quick reply.

    I thought about making a special growing system and lamp to help bring science to people’s homes, and a way for people to offset their carbon footprint.

    But if say a liter of algae would not illuminate for over an hour, I do not know if it would really give people a reason to buy it..

    what do you think?

    1. Damen Nix

      There was a similar kickstarter called Dino pets. You’ll never here me say it can’t be done, but there are a few obstacles. You’d have to have temperature control(requires power) and a system to make keep the water changes. You could get passed the “only lit for a hour” by having a larger chamber of undisturbed algae below the lamp and pumping them into the “bulb”. For that you’d need to look into the pumps they use for blood, your pumping a slurry of living cells after all. If you get it to work it would be awesome! Even if it didn’t reduce carbon I’d still want one… bad, they are amazing

  6. Alan Joshua Greenspan

    So how big of a container of algae do you have and what’s the longest you have been able to get a light by agitating them?
    You seem to know your stuff.. well I can build it with recycled or bioplastic as well, and attach some solar panel cells, and thought about having a battery that would control the processing of the light/air bubbler (if I even need one), and a sensor to determine how many cells are left to notify when you need to replace half the water.
    I was asking around how possible it would be to not have to remove like half of the water and was informed it depends on the kind of bacteria that live with it… need a certain type that would eat the dead cells that liter and pollute the medium.

    Yeah I saw the dino pet..
    Anyways it wouldn’t be that hard to build, but what do you think how would the extra chamber of algae in the base get their daylight feeding on?

    You on fb/twitter or want to talk via email?


  7. azadeh.barimani

    Dear Damen Nix

    I`m studying Technology of Architecture at University of Tehran-Iran…
    I need 250 ml Pyrocystis fusiform for my research work of master thesis…unfortunately EMPCO didn`t have any delievery for Iran. I ask a friend of mine in Netherland-Delf to help me with my matter, but I wonder if the bioluminescent algae will be alive during the ship (maybe about one week) from EMPCO to netherland and then from netherland to Iran?! please Help me with your comment

    1. Damen Nix

      It’s unfortunate but I highly doubt they would survive. where I originally had my culture did not get much natural light. My light timer came unplugged for 2 or 3 days and I almost lost them. And the would also have to survive the temperatures. There is a company in the UK maybe they could make it from there.

      1. Azadeh Barimani

        Really Thanks for your quick reply

        Have you ever get your own from EMPCO?! or do you know how will they pack the algae? you mean they don`t care about the natural light the algae need to survive despite the 1 to 5 business days ship mentioned for delivery!

        Really sorry for taking your time, unfortunately empco doesn`t answer any mail :(

        1. Damen Nix

          They package them in a Styrofoam box with a cold pack, most of the shipping process is not climate controlled. They don’t care if it’s natural or artificial but they won’t survive long without light. There Is nothing empco can do to get them light during shipping

          1. Azadeh Barimani

            Hi Damenix
            Finally I`ve ordered 750 ml bioluminescent algae(2*250ml Pyrocystis fusiform) and (1*250 Pyrocystis Noctiluca) from Sciento in Manchester, they sent the package to Delft on 17December and a friend of mine take them for me in Iran on 21December… last night I saw the the emission of blue light from Pyrocystis fusiform bottles the time I moved them so slightly. Tomorrow I shoud order f/2 growth medium from a company in Iran, this company ordered it from— http://www.sigmaaldrich.com/catalog/product/sigma/g1775?lang=en&region=IR— before but the Product G1775 has been discontinued now! could you please help me if it is a suitable medium for bioluminescent algae!? and how often should I feed the algae?

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