Science News

MIT Creates Glow-In-The-Dark Plants

Labs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been lighting up for an unusual, innovative reasons: glow-in-the-dark plants.

Engineers at the institution have created a hybrid that can light up for hours at a time by infusing watercress, spinach, and kale with an enzyme named luciferase, The Brag reports. Luciferase is the substance that makes fireflies glow when combined with a molecular named luciferin.

The researchers saturated the modified plant with a solution containing more luciferase, added luciferin and waited for the mixture to soak into the plant’s pores by putting them under high pressure. When the molecules interacted, it created a natural light, a press release from the school states.

Michael Strano from MIT, co-author on the study, said,

The vision is to make a plant that will function as a desk lamp — a lamp that you don’t have to plug in. The light is ultimately powered by the energy metabolism of the plant itself.

The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The plants have been able to glow for three-and-a-half hours, so far. Aside from this being a novelty, Strano says this glowing plant has many practical applications. With time, the researchers hope that they can create a light-emitting spray paint that can be used to make “low-intensity” indoor lighting, or maybe turn trees into self-powered lamps. He hopes that in the future, this kind of technology can replace street lights.

Strano said, “Plants can self-repair, they have their own energy and they are already adapted to the outdoor environment. We think this is an idea whose time has come.” If the MIT engineers are able to expand this research, it would mean big steps forward in finding a new, renewable source of energy — at least as far as lighting is concerned.

Seon-Yeong Kwak is the lead author of the study, which was published in the journal Nano Letters.

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