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By Celia Woolfrey (@towerofturtles)     3 Jun 2016

Forget battery-powered shot glasses and UV lipstick—try a glow-in-the-dark cocktail that takes a natural approach

There’s nothing like amping up the bar-side glamour with some carefully underlit, glow-in-the-dark cocktails.

In the case of the Explorers Club annual dinner in New York in March, however, there was nothing artificial about the electric blue of the drinks. As partygoer Jim Gobetz tweeted, the amazing drinks in test-tube-shaped glasses glowed thanks to a living light, after they were shaken with Gaussia luciferase—a bioluminescent, naturally occurring protein secreted by the copepod Gaussia princeps (a tiny crustacean to you and me).

The drinks were part of an incredible menu devised by scientist and food pioneer Gene Rurka for the world’s largest gathering of explorers and environmental scientists.

The club, founded by Arctic explorers in 1904, has a tradition of eating and drinking exotic foods at its annual black-tie gala. Once a gimmicky way for explorers to share items they’d collected on their expeditions, the menu now has a more serious purpose, this year focusing on the richness, fragility and natural balance of marine ecosystems.

Jim Gobetz enjoys a bioluminescent cocktail at the Explorer’s Club dinner
Jim Gobetz enjoys a bioluminescent cocktail at the Explorer’s Club dinner

The luminous blue cocktails were a tip of the hat to the club’s guest of honor, David Gruber, a marine biologist and explorer who searches the undersea world for bioluminescent marine animals. He and his team have deciphered the genomic code of many new fluorescent proteins. These are already being used in medical imaging and the early diagnosis of disease, and could potentially change the way we light cities (and make food more fun).

Using the combination of Gaussia with oxygen and saliva to get a photon-releasing reaction, biotech firm BioLume has invented lollipops that light up after each lick, luminous whipped cream and ice cream, and a prototype glowing beer nicknamed Bud Lights.

In true explorer spirit, the oceans are Earth’s last frontier. ‘At the bottom of the ocean, almost everything you see is a new species,’ Gruber says, adding that exploration today should be less about conquering and more about observation and empathy with other living creatures.

If you want to know more about the wonderful world of bioluminescence, check out our galleried guide to the bright lights of the Maldives.

Photo: iStock

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