Who Needs Light Bulbs? MIT Just Invented Glowing Plants

Weird Science
Friday, 15 December 2017 - 11:04AM
You may one day be able to light your home with nothing more than houseplants. It sounds far-fetched, but a group of MIT scientists has turned what sounds like an absurd sci-fi premise into reality. 
A "plant nanobionic approach" could allow for "exceptional luminosity and lifetime," says a group of MIT engineers that has invented glowing plants by introducing chemically interacting nanoparticles into the leaves of a watercress plant.
The specialized nanoparticles include firefly luciferase (enzyme that creates bioluminescence in fireflies), d-luciferin (another bioluminescent) and semiconductor nanocrystal (has photoluminescence properties), which all appear to be sufficient aids in getting something lit.

The resulting creation emits a soft green glow that lasts for almost four hours, with the light generated by a single 10-centimeter watercress seedling approximately one-thousandth of what is needed for reading.

However, the MIT researchers believe that with further innovation, plants could be boosted to provide real illumination.
"The vision is to make a plant that will function as a desk lamp—a lamp that you don't have to plug in," explained MIT Professor of Chemical Engineering Michael Strano.

"The light is ultimately powered by the energy metabolism of the plant itself."


The group also sees such potential as the provision of low-intensity indoor lighting, or even turning trees into streetlights that require no added power.
"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," 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. It's a perfect problem for plant nanobionics."