Glowing Plants may Replace Streetlights

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Night snorkeling in Thailand’s Krabi is a great hit among tourists who throng the beach at sundown to enjoy the light emitting waters. In the face of a growing energy crisis, scientists are looking for an immediate quick fix with bioluminescent plants that can replace light bulbs.

San Francisco-based technology entrepreneur Antony Evans, and biochemist Omri Amirav-Drory have joined hands to create this futuristic technology. The duo is leading a team of researchers that is working on engineering genes found in fireflies and glowing bacteria to create light-emitting plants. This gene acts as an external substrate and is expected to enable the expression of the six chloroplast genes of the lux operon. This is expected to enable plants to emit light that is visible to the naked eye. In fact, the team is aiming to create plants that can emit light that is bright enough to help one read. This could also mean that a series of these plants can be placed along the street side to work as streetlights.

Compiling genomes

The team is combining the Genome Compiler software technology and the agrobacterium method to design DNA retrieved from the light emitting compounds of fireflies and luminescent microlife. This designed DNA will then be inserted into a specific type of bacteria that will then be injected into a plant and help it glow.

The team states that over a period of time these plants will provide seeds that are genetically programmed to grow light-emitting plants. If this is successful, then the world can look towards a safe light source that does not require an external power source. Besides, this is a product that can be safely disposed with no pollution hazards, unlike those caused by batteries.

Competition along the way

The concept of bioluminescent plants has been a point of scientific discussion since the 1900s. In the 1980s, scientists had developed a glowing plant. However, every plant that needed to glow needed to be injected with the luiniscent compound. Today, researchers have reached a point of growing seeds that have the luminescent DNA.

In 1992, researchers at the University of Georgia Research Foundation filed a patent US5422266 A, which describes a gene that can code for apoaequorin protein along with recombinant DNA vectors that contain that gene. It also discloses homogenous peptides that have the same bioluminescent properties of natural and mixed apoaequorin.

The growing interest in this field is quite evident with St. Louis-based BioGlow joining the race in the US to create glow-in-the-dark plants. BioGlow owns a patent that describes a method to create bioluminescent plants.

At a time when the world is looking for alternative sources of energy and research on nuclear fusion technology to save the world from an energy crisis is still underway, bioluminescent plants can fill the space in an environment-friendly way.

Disclaimer – Featured image is only representative and does not intend to state that the plant has been created using the technique described in this blog.

(Feature image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PanellusStipticusAug12_2009.jpg)

Dr. Nalini Mohan Koutha
Dr. Nalini Mohan Koutha

Dr. Nalini is a Pharmaceutical patent expert and has extensive experience as a technical and Intellectual Property Specialist in Generic Pharmaceutical manufacturing. His quest for analytical thinking extends to his deep interest in philately.


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