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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."
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Genetically Modified Plants To Produce Natural Lighting

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  • Just say NO to GMO (Score:5, Informative)

    by RussR42 (779993) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @07:44PM (#43577305)
    Just kidding. Here's the Kickstarter [kickstarter.com] Link.
  • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @08:10PM (#43577427) Homepage Journal
    It brings light. It's a very deliberate and literal biblical reference. :)
  • Re:Poor choice (Score:5, Informative)

    by kaliann (1316559) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @08:30PM (#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 @08:31PM (#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:Sustainable? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Hentes (2461350) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @08:37PM (#43577579)

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

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

    by lazybratsche (947030) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @08:48PM (#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:5, Informative)

    by Solandri (704621) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @11:05PM (#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.

  • Re:No more GMO! (Score:4, Informative)

    by phoebus1553 (522577) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @11:12PM (#43578177) Homepage

    Especially fun is that the Rats that they fed the fucking roundup pesticide live longer than any of the other rats.

    Just because they didn't get cancer from drinking the pesticide doesn't mean the pesticide-resistant GMO crops are safe.

    Roundup is an herbicide, not a pesticide. While I wouldn't go drinking a shot of the stuff, it's pretty safe to people in the grand scheme of things.

  • by preaction (1526109) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @11:22PM (#43578225)

    Lucifer, the Light-Bringer, the Morning Star, also known as The Fallen One, Satan, and the Devil.

  • by the biologist (1659443) on Monday April 29, 2013 @12:04AM (#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.

  • Re:No more GMO! (Score:4, Informative)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Monday April 29, 2013 @12:31AM (#43578417)

    What are you talking about? They didn't 'grandfather in' any of the genes inserted into crops.

    I'm talking about the concept of "substantial equivalence" [wikipedia.org] which presumes that genetic modification is equivalent to selective breeding and thus any significant testing is unnecessary. Even when there is no way one could selectively breed a gene across species the way GM engineering transplants them.

    Safety testing is at best limited to comparing changes in the level of certain chemicals that already exist in the original version of the plant with no requirement to look for new substances in the new plant.

    http://articles.latimes.com/1992-05-26/news/mn-144_1_genetic-engineering [latimes.com]

    While I am sure there are some anecdotal tests that go above and beyond the level of treating genetic modification as selective breeding, the fact that the minimum requirements are basically non-existent is the issue of concern.

    My personal experience with "substantial equivalence" is in the software world where many government defense contracts use it as an out to avoid rigorous testing of patches and point-releases but still retain various levels of certification. It only works through sheer luck in that world, I don't expect it to work any better with GM foods.

  • by Vintermann (400722) on Monday April 29, 2013 @07:02AM (#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.

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