Science and environment have, yet again, joined hands as engineers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed bioluminescent or Glow In The Dark Plants that emit light for nearly four hours. The groundbreaking research aims to develop plants as an alternative to electrical devices. Taking it one step forward, the team’s future goal is to light an entire workplace with these glowing plants.
“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,” says Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and the senior author of the study.
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The fundamental part of the process is the injection of nanoparticles inside the leaves of the plants. For the glowing effect, the team used an oxidative enzyme, ‘luciferase’ that is found in fireflies. The ‘luciferase’ enzyme acts on a molecule called ‘luciferin’. The subsequent chemical reaction releases energy, which is rapidly converted into light. However, to complete the process, another molecule, ‘Co-Enzyme A’ is used to remove the reaction by-product which can interrupt the above process.
The team packaged these three particles into different nanoparticle carriers. They help each particle to get to the right part of the plant. Moreover, they prevent the components from reaching toxic concentrations that can otherwise be harmful to the plant.
In a similar fashion, ‘luciferase’ inhibitor was injected into the plants to shut the light off.
Initially, the process developed gave results for 45 minutes. However, with further revisions, the glowing capacity was increased to 3.5 hours.
The advantage of this process is that it will work on any type of plant. Till now, experiments have been carried out on plants, such as arugula, kale, spinach and watercress.
In the past, efforts were made to develop bio-luminescent/glow in the dark plants. However, they all relied on genetic modifications that did not provide satisfactory results. Moreover, the experiment has been successfully carried out on tobacco plants and Arabidopsis thaliana, which are commonly used for genetic studies.
The use of nanoparticles, has, therefore, taken the study to another level, altogether.
“Our target is to perform one treatment when the plant is a seedling or a mature plant and have it last for the lifetime of the plant. Our work very seriously opens up the doorway to streetlamps that are nothing but treated trees, and to indirect lighting around homes.” says Michael Strano
Furthermore, the team plans to spray or paint nanoparticles on the leaves of trees or large plants so that they function has streetlights, emitting light at night.