This Plant Has Been Engineered to Emit Light

This Plant Has Been Engineered to Emit Light

This Plant Has Been Engineered to Emit Light

After embedding both into the plants, particles start to release the luciferin into the cells and on the other hand, luciferase interacts with the chemical to create the glow.

Illumination of a book ("Paradise Lost", by John Milton) with the nanobionic light-emitting plants (two 3.5-week-old watercress plants).

It's a wonderful thought, that the drab lamp on your desk could be replaced by a pretty glowing plant.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology MIT glowing plant glowing plants nanoparticles luciferase plant plants

Glowing MIT logo printed on the leaf of an arugula plant.

After embedding specialized nanoparticles into the leaves of a watercress plant, it was found that the plants gave off dim light for almost four hours. The enzyme acts on a molecule called luciferin which produces the light, alongside another molecule called co-enzyme A. In this case, the researchers wanted to tackle lighting, which accounts for about 20 percent of energy consumption worldwide.

The team published a paper in the journal Nano Letters on November 17 describing the process by which they embed plants with nanoparticles that take energy stored by photosynthesis and turn it into light, said Michael Strano, a chemical engineering professor at MIT and the paper's senior author.

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"The energy powering the light is coming from the plant itself", he said. The team put these three components into nanoparticle carriers to get them to the correct part of a plant.

The next step was to soak the plants in that solution and pressurize them, which causes the particles to enter the leaves through tiny pores called stomata. Already, they've improved the duration of the glow from 45 minutes at the beginning of the project to about three and a half hours now.

While the light emitted by these plants is not now bright enough to light the outdoors or even a desk, the researchers hope that further optimisations would allow them to improve the capabilities of these plants, turning them into natural, environment-friendly light lamps.

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The team specializes in what is now called plant nanobionics and have previously designed plants able to detect explosives and monitor drought conditions. Ideally, future work would see the soaking method replaced by a spray-on paint, allowing them to apply the glow to trees lining streets.

"Our work very seriously opens up the doorway to streetlamps that are nothing but treated trees, and to indirect lighting around homes", Strano explains. The plants are illuminated by luciferase - the same enzyme that helps fireflies shine.

You can check out the glowing plants in the video below.

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