The technology could be used to provide low-intensity indoor lighting, or to transform trees into self-powered streetlights
MIT engineers have developed glowing plant prototypes, not by genetically modifying them, but by injecting luciferase, the luminescent enzyme that allows fireflies to shimmer brightly, into their leaves. The process was applied mostly to watercress plants and at first the glowing effect lasted for about 45 minutes, but as the processes evolved, that figure improved to 3.5 hours. The study was funded by the US Department of Energy and scientists believe that, with further optimization, such plants will one day be bright enough to illuminate a workspace. Currently, the light generated by one 10-centimeter watercress seedling is about one-thousandth of the amount needed to read by. â€œThe vision is to make a plant that will function as a desk lamp â€” a lamp that you donâ€™t have to plug in. The light is ultimately powered by the energy metabolism of the plant itself,â€ says Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and the senior author of the study. Hopefully, the research may reach a point where the materials can be applied to a plant just once while yielding a lifetime of useful lighting. â€œOur target is to perform one treatment when the plant is a seedling or a mature plant, and have it last for the lifetime of the plant,â€ adds Strano. â€œOur work very seriously opens up the doorway to streetlamps that are nothing but treated trees, and to indirect lighting around homes.â€ Eventually, the light output of the plants may be able to change depending on conditions, allowing treated plants to look perfectly normal in the daytime but glow brightly at night.
The technology of nanobionic plants
Plant nanobionics is a new research area pioneered by Stranoâ€™s lab, that aims to give plants novel features by embedding them with different types of nanoparticles. After experimenting with plants that can detect explosives, or plants that can monitor drought conditions, glowing plants that could save energy seemed like a logical next target. â€œPlants can self-repair, they have their own energy, and they are already adapted to the outdoor environment,â€ Strano says. â€œWe think this is an idea whose time has come. Itâ€™s a perfect problem for plant nanobionics.â€ They even hope that in the future, there could be a way to paint or spray the nanoparticles onto plant leaves, which could make it possible to transform trees and other large plants into light sources. These plants could even shut off their light emission in response to environmental conditions such as sunlight, if embedded with nanoparticles carrying a luciferase inhibitor.
However, the idea had already appeared four years ago, when the promising â€˜Glowing Plant projectâ€™ raised nearly half a million dollars on Kickstarter, easily blowing past its initial ask of $65,000. Last April though, its creator announced that the glow-in-the-dark plant project run out of money. Letâ€™s hope that this time, the research effort will be more successful and the day when these nanobionic plants will replace lighting as we know it today, will come.
Source: MIT News