Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Biotech Earth Science

Genetically Modified Plants To Produce Natural Lighting 328

Posted by samzenpus
from the glowing-sidewalks dept.
kkleiner writes "A team has launched a crowdsourcing campaign to develop sustainable natural lighting by using a genetically modified version of the flowering plant Arabidopsis. Using the luciferase gene, the enzyme responsible for making fireflies glow, the researchers will design, print, and transform the genes into the target plant. The project, which was recently launched on Kickstarter, has already raised over $100k with over a month left to go."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Genetically Modified Plants To Produce Natural Lighting

Comments Filter:
  • Mosquitos (Score:5, Funny)

    by TrollstonButtersbean (2890693) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @08:43PM (#43577301)
    They need to do this to mosquitoes, let the modification spread around several generations and make a better world ...
  • Just say NO to GMO (Score:5, Informative)

    by RussR42 (779993) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @08:44PM (#43577305)
    Just kidding. Here's the Kickstarter [kickstarter.com] Link.
  • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @08:57PM (#43577355) Homepage

    While I think this is pretty cool and all (Avatar anyone?), once people get a hold of the fact that the enzyme is called 'Luciferase', things could get rather warm for the company (at least in the US).

    • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @09:10PM (#43577427) Homepage Journal
      It brings light. It's a very deliberate and literal biblical reference. :)
      • Surprisingly, there's a "Morningstar Christian Bookstore" near where I go for "big-city" shopping.

        They've been there a while, so probably nobody knows/cares.

      • by meerling (1487879)
        The name is derived from Lucifer, the root of which means 'light-bearer' (lucem ferre).
        • The name is derived from Lucifer, the root of which means 'light-bearer' (lucem ferre).

          Wait... So, God allegedly says "Let there be light", and it's Satan that makes the Sun? The single most important object of this corner of the Universe? Not just one of them, but he's apparently done such a good job of the "light bringing" that there are billions upon billions of suns to chose from -- variety being the spice of life, and all that. Yeah, I'd be pissed at my boss too if he ignored the beauty of that master piece and instead went all gushy over a bunch of insignificant ungrateful chemical reactions on a single wet rock; That's like giving the GUI designer praise for a stable kernel and file system. Oh, hey, I know, Let's cast the insubordinate angel down into the thing he hates most -- Nevermind him having the power to create Stars, all of 'em -- instead of oh, I don't know, giving him his own different wet rock and saying, "Well if you're so damn smart then let's see YOU make some life"; No, the prickish boss of the Universe wouldn't want to give anyone else the chance to outshine them, eh?

          Seems to me Satan's just under appreciated, and the fact the world still exists would point to a god-like degree of restraint or at least pity for said mentally midgetized primates -- I mean, it's not their fault they exist. I can't fault the guy for tripping up the little hairless apes whenever the opportunity presents itself to point out just how fickle and stupid they are -- I mean, what the fuck else did God expect to happen? Seems a bit of a dumb thing to do, IMO, unless you WANT the humans to wind up on the short end of the morality stick.

          Well, I guess you can't blame the writers since they hadn't invented the terms "plot hole" or "antagonist sympathy" yet and thus had to rely on the oldest plot-hook in the book, "irrational demonization". No wonder new UFO religions are springing up; I mean, if there's a market for origin stories this bad then ANYONE could weave a more believable tale and make a fortune.

          • by Vintermann (400722) on Monday April 29, 2013 @08:02AM (#43579539) Homepage

            Wait... So, God allegedly says "Let there be light", and it's Satan that makes the Sun?

            No, before you launch into a long post... to late I guess.

            "Lucifer" is an old name for the morning star (Venus). When Isaiah speaks of how Lucifer has fallen from heaven, he referred to a Babylonian king who was nicknamed or identified with the morning star. Although it etymologically can be read as light-bringer, the conflation with the myth of Prometheus is a much, much later invention.

    • Crafty. I'm certain there's a Water Boy joke in there somewhere, but I'm taking the high ground here Annakin: the "light bearer" gene shows interesting promise. On the speculative side, do you suppose there are fewer babies named Lucifer or Adolf?
    • by Alsee (515537)

      once people get a hold of the fact that the enzyme is called 'Luciferase', things could get rather warm for the company (at least in the US)

      We could simply rename the enzyme.
      I'm sure something like 'Obamase' would solve the problem.

      -

  • Sustainable? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by manu0601 (2221348) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @09:03PM (#43577389)
    Energy will come from sun, so the idea is basically to store it as ATP and/or glucose, and release it as light using luciferase. Is it efficient? More efficient than solar cell/battery/LED? At least it has a point: this energy storage system will need no rare element, and it will be disposable without generating any solution.
    • by manu0601 (2221348)

      Energy will come from sun, so the idea is basically to store it as ATP and/or glucose, and release it as light using luciferase. Is it efficient? More efficient than solar cell/battery/LED? At least it has a point: this energy storage system will need no rare element, and it will be disposable without generating any solution.

      I meant pollution, no solution.

    • Re:Sustainable? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Hentes (2461350) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @09:37PM (#43577579)

      These stuff are just decoration, they glow nicely but don't produce enough light to illuminate anything.

      • Re:Sustainable? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @09:44PM (#43577625) Homepage Journal
        Yes indeed. In fact it might actually screw the plants up and cause them to think it's daytime. Personally, I think it would be a better prospect to do this in a fungus. Some of them already glow a little [wikipedia.org].
        • Re:Sustainable? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Xest (935314) on Monday April 29, 2013 @07:06AM (#43579327)

          I was wondering what effect the light might have, but from my rudimentary knowledge, if the light emitted was in the green wavelengths I think it wouldn't matter?

          From what I can remember, I believe plants are normally stimulated into vegetative growth by light in the blue wavelengths, and into flower by light in the red wavelengths (or lack of if nocturnal flowering? is that right? I can't remember). Although this differs for some species (such as those that live in water) for the most part it remains true and would for something like Arabidopsis. I was under the impression though that green wavelength light has no effect on them.

          Do you know if this is the case? or could green wavelength light still potentially cause etiolation in them?

      • Exactly. Luciferase requires lots of substrate to make lots of light. Chances are they will make very little... Actually, chances are three kickstarter money will fund some poor research that scoresby achieve anything but feed a few unemployed scientists.

      • by jovius (974690)

        Maybe the illumination should come from bacteria, held inside biopanels? When the nutrients are low the panels would light up to say feed me!

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        I'm not sure I want to decorate my home with a green-yellowish glow. I think they are more like novelty items. Very cool, but no practical purpose and no aesthetic value.

    • by icebike (68054)

      Why would efficiency be a concern?
      Plant seeds, get a plant that stores energy of the sun to light up the paths at night.
      Where is the efficiency issue? How could manufacturing a battery and solar cell possibly compete with growing a self replicating plant.

      There may be a ecological concerns, but efficiency isn't even an issue.

      • There may be a ecological concerns, but efficiency isn't even an issue.

        It is if you want to have useful lighting. If the plant is too inefficient then it will not be able to produce enough enzyme to create a useful light.

    • Re:Sustainable? (Score:5, Informative)

      by lazybratsche (947030) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @09:48PM (#43577643)
      This was my first concern. Some back-of-the-envelope calculations:

      Photosynthesis is pretty lousy in terms of thermodynamic efficiency. About 1% of the light that hits a plant is converted to useful chemical energy. The plant will have to use most of that energy for its metabolic processes. Luciferase itself is a very efficient enzyme, however, so I'll generously assume that 10% of the energy that the plant captures can be turned into useful light. So the overall efficiency can't be much higher than 0.1%. By comparison, solar cells are around 10% efficient, and LEDs 20%, so at first glance the luciferase plant seems to be an order of magnitude less efficient than the solar powered flashlight my in-laws gave me for christmas.

      In absolute terms, there is about 100 watts/meter^2 of energy in sunlight. If you've got a one-square-meter window full of the hypothetical plants sitting in sunshine all day, let's say they can absorb 1500 watt-hours, and then convert 1.5 watt-hours into useful light. That'd be comparable to running a 5-watt LED for an hourish, which could be useful if you could turn the luminescence on and off at will. But if the plant is glowing all night and only a portion of the light is emitted in a useful direction, maybe the window-full-of-plants would give off light comparable to the little cluster of LEDs on the front of my computer. So overall I'd say that the idea is not completely impossible, but still totally impractical.
      • Re:Sustainable? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by AK Marc (707885) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @10:40PM (#43577837)
        Impractical, yes. But landscape with these things. Average 12 hours of light 12 hours dark, and you get 0.1% of the light that falls on the ground generated overnight. so 1000W becomes 1W, and that would be enough to line a hedge with, but not enough to read by at night. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunlight#Composition_and_power [wikipedia.org] for the power number.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by aXis100 (690904)

        Let me know when you can grow a solar panel, batteries, charge controller and an LED from a seed.

        Efficiency is irrelevant if the components are cheap/renewable and the input power would be wasted anyway.

      • Re:Sustainable? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Solandri (704621) on Monday April 29, 2013 @12:05AM (#43578145)

        So the overall efficiency can't be much higher than 0.1%. By comparison, solar cells are around 10% efficient, and LEDs 20%

        The difference is that you pay to grow one plant, then it replicates on its own until you have millions of them. So you pay for the first plant, then the rest are essentially free. Solar cells and LED bulbs OTOH don't grow on trees - you're paying the same high fixed cost to manufacture each panel or bulb.

        And if you think about it, what's hindering wide-scale PV and LED adoption right now? High up-front costs.

        In absolute terms, there is about 100 watts/meter^2 of energy in sunlight.

        The solar constant [wikipedia.org] (energy flux of sunlight at Earth's orbit) is about 1360 W/m^2. A bit more than half of that reaches the earth's surface - about 750-800 W/m^2 (the rest being absorbed by the atmosphere). The 125 W/m^2 commonly quoted is the power output of widely-available 15% efficient PV panels under ideal condditions at the Earth's surface.

      • by kermidge (2221646)

        Yeah, but, admit it, it's a fun project.

  • Genome Compiler is a nice tool, but the luciferase gene is since long available to molecular biology and can be just put in the right vector for expressing it in the plants... why making everything more complicated? or do the authors just want to buy the fancy genome complier software for something else? ;)
  • I like the project, but I'm skeptical of the whole regulatory problem, which as they mention is more difficult than the science.
  • Why the hell would they start with a Brassica? The entire genus sucks for this purpose, with scraggly stems having few, small leaves - aka "low surface area" for emitting light.

    You want a good plant to turn into a night-light? Go for something like a Chlorophytum, aka the Spider Plant. Lots of surface area, grows fast, impossible to kill (My cats chew one of mine back to the dirt every few weeks, and for three years that thing still keeps trying to come back)...

    Instead, they want to modify something
    • I live in the Pacific Northwest, and I think they should try Himalaya Blackberries. They're all over already - cities could save lots of money that currently goes to street lighting.

      • by icebike (68054)

        Having those blackberry vines around would soon mean you would have no passable street s left. They would cut your children to ribbons on the way to school.

        I think you would want an evergreen species anyway, not something that drops its leaves in the dark months.

        • by cusco (717999)
          Not only do these damn things not drop their leaves like any self-respecting blackberry, they don't even stop growing in winter.
      • by cusco (717999)
        Then while my wine is fermenting in the laundry room I wouldn't need a night light either.
    • heh, I was thinking exactly the same thing - glowing spider plants could be put all over a house/hut/office plaza. Don't feel like watering it for a couple weeks? No problem.

    • Re:Poor choice (Score:5, Informative)

      by kaliann (1316559) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @09:30PM (#43577537)

      I imagine that they started with a Brassica because it's one of the most common experimental plants, and there's more genetic information available on it vs. most houseplants. Proof of concept work is best done in a thoroughly understood system, and if you're adding a gene from another phylum, knowing a lot about the organism you are working with helps to control for some variables.

      However, I love the idea of a hardier plant with high leaf area!
      (I admit to fanciful imaginings of a calm voice announcing, "In the event of a blackout, low level emergency lighting will be noticeable in street-side shrubbery.")

    • Re:Poor choice (Score:5, Informative)

      by danudwary (201586) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @09:31PM (#43577549)

      Probably because Arabidopsis is one of the most well studied plants in terms of its genetics, and, thus, easier than other plants to genetically modify.

    • Re:Poor choice (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Nemyst (1383049) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @09:35PM (#43577573) Homepage
      They should use carnivorous plants. Put a few around the yard and you get rid of insects all while lighting it up for free!
    • by tloh (451585) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @09:37PM (#43577585)

      How do you control this thing? Normal lights running off electricity can be turned on and shut off with a power switch. If you are going to engineer a whole plant to be a light source, what mechanism will you use to activate and deactivate the enzymatic process? One that is cheap, reliable, and convenient? Always on may be convenient in certain situations, but still wouldn't you want a way to control it? One can well imagine this kind of think wreaking havoc for astronomers (both amateur and professional) who have always fought tough battles against light pollution of the night sky. This can become a nightmare if such plants start growing near prime observation locations.

  • Well... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Say goodbye to Earthbound astronomy.

  • by xstonedogx (814876) <xstonedogx@gmail.com> on Sunday April 28, 2013 @09:38PM (#43577589)

    Your name (or anything under 30 characters) will be written, in DNA, into the glowing plant genome!!

    Just imagine if it was your name that caused the plant to produce an airborne toxin that caused the end of the world. (I'd blame my parents.)

  • If one were to eat such a plant, would that person eventually begin glowing?
    • by AK Marc (707885)
      That'd be silly. Next, you'll tell me that eating pink shrimp is what turns flamingos pink.
  • what would Ron Finley http://www.ted.com/talks/ron_finley_a_guerilla_gardener_in_south_central_la.html [ted.com] make out of these plants (assuming they somehow produce enough light when needed)?
  • by Hartree (191324) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @09:44PM (#43577623)

    Aren't they worried the pollen will drift and crossbreed with our all natural compact flourescents?

    And they're doing it with mustard plants, Mandrake! Mustard for childrens hot dogs!

  • Natural? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BradleyUffner (103496) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @09:57PM (#43577685) Homepage

    I don't think that means what they think it means.

  • Seeds will be shipped within the USA only!

    Way to make it a global initiative..

  • turn the light off (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PixetaledPikachu (1007305) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @11:12PM (#43577959)
    So how do we turn the light off? Move the pot out of the room?
  • If the plant is genetically engineered, can it still be called natural?

  • anyone in the Sunnyvale, CA area can meet up with the team at the Bioluminesence Community meetups at BioCurious

    Curious .. yes. Bio Curious? Not sure, but I must admit to being cautious about attending.

  • by the biologist (1659443) on Monday April 29, 2013 @01:04AM (#43578337)

    Adding the Luciferase gene is fine and dandy. But to get the plant to glow, it also has to produce the appropriate luciferin. The photo they use of a glowing tobacco plant was produced by watering the tobacco with luciferin solution and then using a very long exposure. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Glowing_tobacco_plant.jpg)

    That said, the luciferin found in dinoflagelates is derived from chlorophyll (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luciferin) and it is conceptually possible to introduce the relevant algae genes into their plant... once the genes have been identified. This sort of metabolic engineering is a MUCH bigger task than the Kickstarter campaign people are planning for.

    The energetic difficulty could be worked around by making the plant into a biological capacitor... where it builds up luciferin all day and then discharges in a flash at night. The plants wouldn't be of any use in landscape lightly, but they would be a really cool landscape feature. The downside is they might drive any local fireflies insane.

  • You can run a kickstarter for genetic engineering now? Well why the HELL don't we have anime cat girls yet, then?

Top Ten Things Overheard At The ANSI C Draft Committee Meetings: (10) Sorry, but that's too useful.

Working...