Scientists Create Glowing Plants That May Light Up Homes Someday

The breakthrough discovery could be the future of lighting.
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It seems like an idea taken from science fiction: bioengineered living light bulbs in the form of glowing plants. Such bioluminescent plants litter the landscape of Pandora, the alien moon in James Cameron’s blockbuster animation film Avatar.

Earth has come a step closer to making that a reality. Scientists studying glowshrooms—a word we invented for glowing mushrooms—discovered that the metabolism in some of these mushrooms are similar to plants. When the scientists rebuilt the mushroom DNA into the plants’ DNA, they were able to create plants that glow ten times brighter than the mushrooms

“We engineered tobacco plants with a fungal bioluminescence system that converts caffeic acid (present in all plants) into luciferin and report self-sustained luminescence that is visible to the naked eye,” the abstract of the study states.

The scientists are calling the breakthrough “autoluminescence” because the bioengineered plants proved that they can emit light continuously on their own throughout their lifecycle, from seedling to maturity. It is the first time that scientists were able to create plants that produce self-sustained light continuously.

The team of researchers also hinted that it is possible to create similar autoluminescence in other plants, not only in tobacco plants. This could lead to many applications, with the most immediate ones being ornamental. Imagine glowing flowers and potted plants at home.

In the future, such plants could also provide sustainable alternative lighting that uses no electricity, but that could be many years away from now.


The story is based on the study titled Plants With Genetically Encoded Autoluminescence that was published in Nature Biotechnology.



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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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