MIT engineers have finally succeeded in creating nanobiotic plants that glow in the dark. These are hoped to some day replace artificial lighting. They did so by implanting specialized nanoparticles into watercress plants. For now, they can give off very dim light for up to four hours. Michael Strano, Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT has stated that one vision for it is that they will eventually replace nightstand and desk lamps. People also won’t have to plug them in. Researchers are also hoping that this same technology will someday be able to be used to turn trees into solar-powered streetlights and to provide low intensity lighting indoors at night.
The same researchers have also succeeded in creating plants that can detect explosives and send that information to smartphones. There are also plants that oversee and send information about drought conditions. Strano stated that since lighting makes up for about 20 percent of global energy consumption.
The MIT team started with the same enzymes that gives fireflies their glow, which are co-enzyme A and luciferase. The former acts as an agent for the latter to remove a by-agent that would inhibit the luciferin’s actions. They made sure to use three components in different types of nano-particle carriers, which the FDA considers to be safe. It also prevents the enzymes from peaking at levels that could be toxic to the plants.
Another thing that the use of luciferin agents in plants has done is replace the need to genetically modify them for the lighting. Genetic modification efforts have not been successful as it’s a very time-consuming process that has only yielded minimal results. Fortunately, the luciferin process of Strano’s MIT team can be used in any plant. So far, they’ve also tried it on kale, spinach and argula with the same results. They have stated that one of the long-term visions is also for people to be able to spray the luciferin agents onto the plants. They have also successfully demonstrated that the light can be “turned off” by using luciferin inhibitors.