An MIT team of engineers are bioengineering a species of watercress plant that can glow in the dark and could soon replace electrical lighting. They were able to create the glowing plants by inserting nanoparticles in the plants’ leaves.
While the light emitted by the plants is dim, it could soon be bright enough to replace the traditional light bulb with proper optimization.
In other words, MIT researchers want to turn the glowing shrub into a desk lamp, and trees into streetlights that don’t need any external power source. The electricity is produced by the plants’ metabolism.
A research paper detailing the experiment appeared this week in Nano Letters.
Lead author Seon-Yeong Kwak explained that the team is working on offering plants new features by enriching them with nanoparticles. The final goal is to breed plants that can take up all the functions of electrical lighting devices.
A Revolutionary Type of Plant
It is not the first time, scientists try to enhance the properties of a plant. In a previous experiment, plants were tweaked to detect explosives and beam that data to a smartphone. Other plants were designed to monitor the severity of drought during a particular season.
If the latest experiment is successful, around 20 percent of the planet’s energy consumption could be saved. Researchers noted that plants have many functions that make them the perfect candidates for the job:
- they can self-repair,
- need no maintenance,
- generate their own energy,
- and they thrive both indoors and outdoors.
In their study, researchers tweaked an enzyme that enables fireflies to emit light, luciferase. The team packed the enzyme into a nanoparticle carrier which was embedded into a plant. The U.S. FDA usually considers nanoparticles as safe.
The team was very cautious to prevent nanoparticles from being toxic to plants.
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