“We’re introducing blue light into the environment and into our daily lives at times when we’re not supposed to see it – and that basically causes dysfunction in our biological processes.” — Brian Zoltowski
“As a society, we are using more technology, and there’s increasing evidence that artificial light has had a negative consequence on our health,” says Zoltowski, who was awarded $320,500 from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health to continue its research on the impact of blue light.
“Our study uses physical techniques and chemical approaches to probe an inherently biological problem,” Zoltowski said. “We want to understand the chemical basis for how organisms use light as an environmental cue to regulate growth and development.”
Martin’s interview with Zoltowski, “The Bright Side And Dark Side Of Blue Light,” was published online Dec. 8.
By Justin Martin
Light is necessary for life on earth, but scientists believe that too much of a certain wavelength can cause everything from crop diseases to changes in the migratory patterns of animals. SMU professor Brian Zoltowski is working to unravel the mystery of blue light in a study funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Interview Highlights: Brian Zoltowski
… On what defines blue light:
“Blue light refers to a part of the electromagnetic spectrum that has specific energy. Usually we define things by basically their wavelength of light. So typically blue light can be centered around 450 nanometers but can range … from about 425 nanometers to 475 nanometers.”
… On the origin of excess blue light:
“Blue light is very abundant in nature in general. That’s why organisms actually use that wavelength of light to drive their biological processes. But it turns out though that because it’s abundant in nature, we like to have it to be abundant in our products like our lights, our computers, our laptops and everything else. So we introduce a lot more foreign blue light into the environment compared to what should naturally be there.”
… On blue light’s effects in animals vs. plants:
“A lot of that is not known, which is one of the reasons we’re actually doing a lot of this research. What we do know is that blue is extremely important for basically growth and development of any organism you can conceive of. How that’s ultimately regulated and when there can be too much is a big question. The bigger question is when you get the blue light, nature is designed to use blue light as a signal as to what time of day it is. So when we’re introducing blue light into the environment or into our daily lives through computers and laptops, we’re introducing blue light at times of day like evening when we’re not supposed to see it – and that basically causes dysfunction in our biological processes.”
… On how blue light fosters fungal growth:
“There’s growing understanding that a lot of these fungal pathogens of plants – there are several that actually attack wine, which causes billions of dollars of crop loss each year. There are some that we’re interested in that also basically attack a lot of your grain crops — so you’re looking at wheat, alfalfa — that have very detrimental aspects to agriculture. Their ability to infect the plant is regulated by blue light.”