Scientists create plants that glow in the dark

News > World

   Nathan Redhead | Posted on May 3, 2020

A team of scientists have created glowing plants by implanting genes from fungi that produce light in a process known as bioluminescence. According to a research paper published in Nature Biotechnology, the scientists used a fungal bioluminescence system that converts caffeic acid into a substance known as luciferin, which gives off light in fungi. Caffeic acid is present in all plants.   

Glowing plants illustration image by Prawny from Pixabay 

The process is entirely metabolic to the plants and poses no viable danger. This allows the glow to be self-sustaining for the entirety of the plants’ life cycle.   

A similar experiment has been previously performed by a separate group of scientists, who at the time, used genes found in bacteria. However, lead scientists Ilia V. Yampolsky and Karen S. Sarkisyan—both of whom represent the Russian Academy of Sciences—state that those experiments have not been widely adopted because of low light output. The fungal bioluminescence system produces brighter glowing plants than those produced by the bacterial bioluminescence system. 

Researchers have also previously designed plants that can detect explosives and communicate that information to a smartphone, as well as plants that can monitor drought conditions. The explosives detection in plants was made possible by engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who embedded leaves with carbon nanotubes, turning spinach plants into sensors that were used to detect explosives, and wirelessly relay that information to a handheld device.   

In the study using a fungal bioluminescence system, the scientists used tobacco plants. While tobacco was used for the experiment due to its simple biological makeup, it was suggested by the scientists mentioned earlier that this technique can be used on various other plants in further tests. The scientists stated, “our findings could underpin development of a suite of imaging tools for plants,” hoping that biologists may be able to get a better picture of the internal organs for a variety of plants.  

Glowing plants can be used for much more than biological studies. Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and a senior author of a similar experiment conducted in the school, had mentioned the possibility of optimising plants to replace light fixtures. Technology such as this could result in low powered indoor lighting, and can even turn trees into self-powered street lights.   

Businesses looking to cut down on their electrical bill by going green, or even homeowners simply looking to add an unorthodox style to their interior designing, could look forward to glowing ornamental plants of a wide variety. Researches at MIT continue to study and experiment using biotechnology, hoping to create a method of spraying or painting nanoparticles onto the leaves of the plants.    


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Nathan Redhead
Junior Writer

Nathan is a Grenadian writer and a graduate of the T. A Marryshow Community College in Grenada, where he earned an associate’s degree in sociology and psychology. While obtaining his associate’s degree, he was exposed to the world of poetry and expository writing as a member of the Writer’s Association of Grenada. He’s an avid lover of literature, and as a child, he spent the majority of his free time either watching the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet or trying to dismantle his toys to rebuild them into something that sparked his interest. As a Junior Writer, he hopes to reignite his passion for science and inventing, as well as improve his creative writing ability.

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