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Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are currently developing glowing plants. "The vision is to create a plant that works as a desk lamp - a lamp that you do not have to catch," said Michael Strano, head of the bioluminescence project and Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT.
This is how researchers make plants shine
The researchers around Professor Strano work in the field of plant nanobionics. In the case of luminous plants, they have used various nanoparticles in the leaves of plants. The researchers were inspired by the fireflies. They transferred the enzymes (luciferases), which also make the little fireflies, to the plants. Due to its influence on the molecule luciferin and certain modifications by coenzyme A, light is generated. All of these ingredients have been packaged in nanoparticle carriers that not only prevent the accumulation of too many active ingredients in the plants (poisoning them), but also move the individual components to the right place within the plants. These nanoparticles have been classified as generally regarded as safe by the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration of the United States. The plants (or the people who want to use them as lamps) must therefore fear no damage.
First research results
Watercress (Nasturtium): Soon on your bedside table?
As the first target in bioluminescence, the researchers had set plants to glow for 45 minutes. Currently they have arrived with ten centimeters of watercress seedlings at a lighting time of 3.5 hours. The only catch: the light is not enough to read a book in the dark. The researchers are confident, however, to take even this hurdle. It is noteworthy, however, that the luminous plants can be switched on and off. Again with the help of enzymes you can block the light particles inside the leaves.
Possibilities and goals
And why the whole? The uses of glowing plants are very diverse - if you think about it. The lighting of our homes, cities and roads accounts for around 20 percent of the world's energy consumption. For example, turning trees into street lights or houseplants into reading lights would be a huge savings. Especially since plants are able to regenerate themselves and optimally adapt to their environment, so no repair costs incurred. In addition, the luminosity sought by the researchers should function absolutely autonomously and be automatically supplied with energy via the plant's metabolism. In addition, work is underway to make the "firefly principle" applicable to all types of plants. In addition to the watercress, experiments have been conducted with rocket, kale and spinach - with success.
Imagine, the trees of this avenue would light up at night
What is still pending is an increase in luminosity. In addition, the researchers want to bring the plants to adjust their light independently to the time of day, so that, especially in the case of street lamps in tree shape, the light does not have to be turned on by hand. Also, the bulbs must be easier to apply than it is currently the case. At the moment, the plants are immersed in an enzyme solution and the active ingredients are pumped by pressure into the pores of the leaves. The researchers, however, dream of being able to simply spray the lamp on in the future.