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Biotech Earth Science

Genetically Modified Plants To Produce Natural Lighting 328

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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  • Re:energy? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by danudwary ( 201586 ) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @09:25PM (#43577513)

    Luciferase genes are common throughout nature. Not just fireflies. It's just where they were studied from first. There's no heat produced - it's essentially the most efficient light source we know of. Far more efficient that anything we can manufacture. The actual reaction is not terribly different from one of those plastic glow sticks, just a biological form of it.

    The only problem I see is that I just can't see how it's going to be very bright. I remember a classroom demo where the professor took purified luciferase and the reactants you need, and it lit up and glowed for a while, but petered out pretty quickly. The bio reaction is ATP-dependant, so having a plant with a bright light is going to have to consume tons of energy that the plant would rather be using to maintain normal processes.

  • 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.

  • Re:Poor choice (Score:4, Interesting)

    by holmstar ( 1388267 ) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @09:42PM (#43577615)
    Actually, that would probably work pretty well. Insects are attracted to the light and become plant food.
  • 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 [].
  • We could simply rename the enzyme.

    Hey, it worked for Rapeseed oil: when they cultivated it, they renamed it Canola oil.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 28, 2013 @10:32PM (#43577811)
    At some point in the not too distant future technology will advance enough for a grad student to transplant the gene to produce THC into some other plant. I vote for <URL:> Glowing plants are just the beginning.
  • 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. [] for the power number.
  • Re:energy? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Alsee ( 515537 ) on Sunday April 28, 2013 @11:07PM (#43577935) Homepage

    Yeah, my first thought was that it's not going to be very bright. I did a back of the envelope calculation.

    According to Wikipedia photosynthesis efficiency is about 3 to 6% of incoming sunlight. Lets call it 4.5%. That's the energy a plant uses to grow and just to keep itself alive - lets assume we can burn about half of that energy for light production without starving the plant itself. In fireflies Lucifer is about 90 to 98 efficient in converting energy into light. Lets say out engineered plant manages 90%. Next let's note that this plant is going to waste energy glowing even during midday sun. That basically cuts in half (or less) the amount of useful energy spend on blowing at night in the dark. Next let's note that the light is going to be generated inside the plant, but only a portion of it will make it out and be visible. The rest will hit internal plant tissue and be absorbed (remember, the very purpose of leaf tissue is to be a good absorber of light). The fraction of light that usefully escapes is hard to estimate, but lets call it 50%.

    At this point we're down to about 1/200th.

    Peak direct visible sunlight is about 440 watts per square meter. Average from sunrise to sunset will be less than half that. And with the 1/200th factor above we're looking at less than 1 watt of light output per square meter. (Note that we don't need to mess with the leaf surface area, we only need to consider the 2-D cross-section of the plant intercepting the available sunlight.)

    The good news is that at this point in our calculation our wattage gets translated into light as if it's 100% efficiency. This means that a modest size BUSH that's 1 meter (or 1 yard) in diameter could, optimistically, glow at night with the equivalent light output of a 20-watt to 40-watt incandescent bulb.

    That's probably close to the high end of what's possible, and I doubt their first attempt will be that good, but it is more than I expected. If you have good night vision, and if you sat right up against a bush, it may be just enough to (uncomfortably) read by. If all you have is typical size potted plant you'll only get a tiny fraction of that much light though.... maybe 5% of that.


  • 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?
  • by Opyros ( 1153335 ) on Monday April 29, 2013 @12:29AM (#43578245) Journal
    Originally it was a nickname for the king of Babylon, one of Israel's enemies. But the passage was reinterpreted long afterward to refer to Satan.
  • by dryeo ( 100693 ) on Monday April 29, 2013 @01:58AM (#43578485)

    Worked in the other direction as well. People would never have stood for illegalizing such a common and useful plant as hemp. Rename it as marijuana and demonize it and no problem illegalizing one of the most useful plants on the planet.

  • by Khyber ( 864651 ) <> on Monday April 29, 2013 @02:35AM (#43578573) Homepage Journal

    At some point in the not too distant future technology will advance enough for a grad student to transplant the gene to produce THC into some other plant. I vote for <URL:> Glowing plants are just the beginning.

    "At some point in the not too distant future technology will advance enough for a grad student to transplant the gene to produce THC into some other plant."

    Umm, yea, no. You need certain structures to produce THC, and thus your chosen plant would fail pretty miserably.

    The closest plant you could even remotely think of transplanting the gene into would be the Tomato, which produces capitate-stalked trichomes, a structure essential for the production of THC.

  • 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?

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Monday April 29, 2013 @08:44AM (#43579719) Journal

    You need certain structures to produce THC

    No, you need certain enzymes to produce THC. Enzymes which happen to live in certain structures in Cannabis. The same enzymes would produce THC just as readily in a tube as in a trichome, and there's no reason to expect they wouldn't if transfected into algae.

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