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What is luciferase? Conspiracy theorists spread false claims of tracker in vaccine

A conspiracy theory alleges Covid-19 vaccines contains a marker that can track those who get doses, here's what it is used actually used for
(Win McNamee/Getty Images)
(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Anti-vaxxers continue to spread fake news and doubt about the Covid-19 vaccines with the latest trend revolving around a bioluminescent marker called luciferase. While its name may be associated with the devil, the vaccine isn't. Experts have debunked the claims as fake, with theorists saying it can be used to "track" those who get shots. That's not what the gene marker is meant to do and none of the current vaccines contain the compound.

The claims are just the latest to spread about the vaccine. Since the start of the pandemic, many have claimed the vaccines are a way for Bill Gates to inject microchips into your blood, which was debunked numerous times. It wasn't just a fringe conspiracy theory, at one point 44% of Republican voters and 65% of Fox News viewers believed the theory was real. The theories dented early uptake of the vaccines, before a concentrated effort by government officials and the World Health Organization (WHO). 


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Now, with a large portion of Americans vaccinated, the theories continue to flow. On November 1, the luciferase theory resurfaced, after initially making the rounds in May 2021. As it was then, it continues to remain a fake claim. Here's the truth about the marker and its use, so you don't get swept up in the latest crazy theory.

What is luciferase?

Luciferase is an enzyme, whose organic compound luciferin is used to create bioluminescence, i.e. light emitted by living organisms. The compound is usually found in fireflies and other small creatures like snails and fungi that emit light from their bodies. They do so because the compound reacts with oxygen to glow. The compound is used to track how viruses – and vaccines – interact with cells because it is easy to see since it produces a bright light, which is easy to see under a microscope. That's it. It cannot be used to "track" someone, as the theory claims. 

It has not been used to create vaccinations of any sort, but some researchers have used it to develop more accurate Covid-19 tests. The University of Texas Medical Branch has used luciferase to track the presence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. You can read more about the research here. A similar study has been done by the University of South Florida College of Public Health, where the compound has been used to trace Covid-19, and create treatments, but crucially not used as an ingredient in any vaccine. 

A Lampyris Noctiluca, or female firefly. (Tero Keski-Valkama/Wikimedia Commons)

And in case you are wondering, no, the compound has nothing to do with Satan. Its name comes from the Latin word lucifer, which means "light-bearer" because the compound emits lights. There is nothing evil about them, the association with the devil is a mere coincidence. 

Claims about Covid-19 vaccine

Right now, many people on social media are claiming that the vaccines contain luciferase so that anyone who gets jabbed can be tracked. The claim was once repeated by Emerald Robinson, Newsmax's White House correspondent. She tweeted, "Dear Christians: the vaccines contain a bioluminescent marker called LUCIFERASE so that you can be tracked. Read the last book of the New Testament to see how this ends." That tweet since appears to have been deleted, because it violated Twitter's rules.

A now-deleted tweet from Newsmax's Emerald Robinson about the Covid-19 vaccine which is fake. (Twitter)

Back in May, many people claimed the compound was found in the Moderna vaccine. Such claims have once again resurfaced, across networks including Facebook and Reddit. Please be aware that they are false. There is no way any vaccine can track you. The only way you are being tracked is through your smartphone and other mobile devices. If you are skeptical about the ingredients of the vaccine, you can check them on the FDA's website. Here's the fact sheet for the Moderna vaccine. 

In case you have any more doubts about the vaccine, please do check out factual resources such as the FDA, CDC, or WHO. Do not share claims you see on social media unless they are linked back to these organizations. You can also talk to your doctor if you wish.