Scientists engineer light-emitting plant

Science

Another molecule called co-enzyme A helps the process along by removing a reaction byproduct that can inhibit luciferase activity.

The team published a paper in the journal Nano Letters on November 17 describing the process by which they embed plants with nanoparticles that take energy stored by photosynthesis and turn it into light, said Michael Strano, a chemical engineering professor at MIT and the paper's senior author. "The light is ultimately powered by the energy metabolism of the plant itself", said Michael Strano, Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US.

The MIT team packaged each of these components into a different type of nanoparticle carrier. The nanoparticles, which are all made of materials that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies as "generally regarded as safe", help each component get to the right part of the plant. The nanoparticles enter the leaf through the plant's stomata, or microscopic pores, which Strano has already used to in order to get plants to predict droughts.

Today, lighting accounts for as much as 20% of worldwide energy consumption. Researchers are experimenting with watercress plants in which they embedded nanoparticles in amounts that are not toxic to the plant.

Experts injected specialised nanoparticles into the leaves of a watercress plant, which caused it to give off a dim light for almost four hours.

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Researchers at MIT have engineered plants that give away dim light for as long as four hours.

Already, they've improved the duration of the glow from 45 minutes at the beginning of the project to about three and a half hours now. The amount of light emitted by the watercress is now only one-thousandth of the amount needed to provide a reading light, but Strano and team say they can boost the emission and duration of the light by adjusting the concentration and release rates of the three components.

The team says this method can avoid some of the pitfalls that previous attempts fell into, namely trying to genetically engineer plants to express luciferase genes.

It is not the first time, scientists try to enhance the properties of a plant. The new glowing plants are not bright enough but with a little extra work, they could illuminate an entire room. "Our work very seriously opens up the doorway to streetlamps that are nothing but treated trees, and to indirect lighting around homes".

You can check out the glowing plants in the video below.

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