Engineers Created Plants that Glow
Science & Tech / /
Illumination from nanobionic plants might be the future of electrical lighting.
By embedding specialized nanoparticles into the leaves of a watercress plant, MIT engineers induced the plants to illuminate dim light for almost 4 hours. They believe that, with further upgrading, those plants will one day be optimized enough to give light to a workspace.
“The vision is to make a plant that will function as a desk lamp — a lamp that you don’t have to plug in. The light is ultimately powered by the energy metabolism of the plant itself,” says Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and the senior author of the study.
The idea is that this technology provides low-intensity indoor lighting, or even to transform trees into self-powered streetlights, the researchers expect.
As MIT News reports, the crucial substance to create glowing plants, is luciferase--the enzyme that gives fireflies their glow. Luciferase acts on a molecule called luciferin, causing it to emit light. Another molecule called co-enzyme A helps the process along by removing a reaction byproduct that can inhibit luciferase activity.
All of the rhtee above mentioned components are packaged into a different type of nanoparticle carrier. The nanoparticles carrier, help each component get to the right part of the plant. They also prevent the components to overdose the plant, which could be toxic. For the purpose of getting the particles into plant leaves, the researchers first suspended the particles in a solution. That the plants were immersed in the solution and after that exposed to high pressure, which allowed the particles to enter the leaves through stomata-- tiny pores that facilitates gas exchange.
The early efforts at the start of the project resulted in plants that could glow for about 45 minutes, which was since improved to 3.5 hours. The light generated by 10-centimeter plant is currently about one-thousandth of the light amount needed for reading, but the researchers believe they can improve the emitted light, as well as its duration, by further optimizing the concentration of the components.