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Baruch Associate Professor David Gruber Uncovers Secrets of Biofluorescent Sealife

The Covert World of Fish Biofluorescence: A Phylogenetically Widespread and Phenotypically Variable Phenomenon

FluorescentFish          DavidGruber Scyliorhinus retifer (photo by Gruber/Pieribone)                              Prof. David Gruber

NEW YORK, NY- January 16, 2014 - A series of expeditions to the Bahamas and the Solomon Islands has led David Gruber, Associate Professor of Biology at Baruch College to discover biofluorescence in fish and to learn the implications for the evolution and behavior of these fishes.

His research, The Covert World of Fish Biofluorescence: A Phylogenetically Widespread and Phenotypically Variable Phenomenon, co-written by his fellow researchers John S. Sparks, Robert C. Schelly, W. Leo Smith, Matthew P. Davis, Dan Tchernov and Vincent A. Pieribone, has garnered national attention by the science journal PLoS One, The New York Times, National Geographic News, Discovery Science and CNN, among others.

FluorescentFish2Gruber says the discovery of fluorescent proteins has revolutionized experimental biology. Whereas the majority of fluorescent proteins have been identified from cnidarians, recently several fluorescent proteins have been isolated across the animal tree of life. Their research shows that biofluorescence is not only phylogenetically widespread, but is also phenotypically variable across both cartilaginous and bony fishes, highlighting its evolutionary history and the possibility for discovery of numerous novel fluorescent proteins. Fish biofluorescence is especially common and morphologically variable in cryptically patterned coral-reef lineages. Gruber and his team identified 16 orders, 50 families, 105 genera, and more than 180 species of biofluorescent fishes.

Gruber’s research team also took a closer look at the phylogenetic distribution of biofluorescence forFluorescentFish3 ray-finned fishes. The presence of yellow long-pass intraocular filters in many biofluorescent fish lineages and the substantive color vision capabilities of coral-reef fishes suggest that they are capable of detecting fluoresced light. In their research, the team identifies species-specific emission patterns among closely related species, indicating that biofluorescence potentially functions in intraspecific communication and evidence that fluorescence can be used for camouflage. This research provides insight into the distribution, evolution, and phenotypic variability of biofluorescence in marine lineages and examines the role this variation may play.

Gruber’s research can also be seen in Wired Science, LiveScience (NSF partnership), Nature News, World Science Festival blog, Discovery News, International Business Times, CBC News, The Birmingham News, Popular Science, io9, UPI, RedOrbit, The Los Angeles Times and LiveScience.




About Baruch College:

Baruch College is a senior college in the City University of New York (CUNY) with a total enrollment of more than 17,000 students, who represent 160 countries and speak more than 100 languages. Ranked among the top 15% of U.S. colleges and the No. 5 public regional university, Baruch College is regularly recognized as among the most ethnically diverse colleges in the country. As a public institution with a tradition of academic excellence, Baruch College offers accessibility and opportunity for students from every corner of New York City and from around the world. For more about Baruch College, go to


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