Glow Your Own Plants

May 8, 2013 by

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Plants that gleam, alien-like, could be the next source of sustainable natural lighting–no electricity required.

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Bioluminescent tree via NextNature.

Inspired by fireflies and aquatic bioluminescence, a team of Stanford University PhDs are creating living, glowing plants inside a California lab. The team has a Kickstarter page, where plant scientist Kyle Taylor explains the process of obtaining genes from fireflies and glowing bacteria, and using them to infuse plants with a special glow.

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As of May 6, more than 4,500 backers had pledged more than $261,000 to the project, easily besting the team’s $65,000 goal. While they’ve already designed the glowing plants’ DNA sequences, the Stanford-trained scientists still need money “to synthesize the DNA and transform it into a real, glowing plants,” says team member Antony Evans.

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An $80 Kickstarter campaign contribution will get you glowing rose seeds and an upcycled bulb (get it?) vase on a stand.

The glowing plant, called Arabidopsis, has already been created in labs at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and at the University of Florida, Gainesville. Stony Brook scientists, who created their glowing plant in 2010, were the first to grow a plant that glowed without  having to be “either sprayed with chemicals or illuminated with external light sources,” Alexander Krichevsky, an assistant professor of genetic engineering, told Live Science.

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So why the new glowing plant project? The Stanford team already has prototypes (they inserted a florescent protein into a plant) and says they are jumping off from the SUNY glowing plant, adding an additional gene that will enhance Arabidopsis’s glow. The plant thrives in temperatures of 71-73 degrees F, and prefers to soak up water from a tray rather than being sprinkled from above–things to keep in mind when planning your future glowing plant plot.

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On the Horizon?

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Artists impression of bio-streetlights inspired by University of Cambridge iGEM team’s E.glowi project. 

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Designer Audrey Richard-Laurent  speculates about combining trees and streetlights into bioluminescent trees. In urban areas, one usually sees a row of trees parallel to streetlights. Why not hybridize them? via NextNature.

What do you think? Comment below to weigh in on the future of bioluminescent plants.

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