Very soon the lighting industry is going to a jolt, especially in the area of night lamps as they are going to be blown away by the latest entrant in the market – a glowing plant!
Scientists have used the bioluminescent properties of mushrooms to create ornamental house plants with long-lasting leaves and flowers.
The use of bioluminescent genes found in bacteria is not new; scientists have done it before. The problem is that these plants aren’t very bright, which is probably why they didn’t catch on.
A new study published in Nature Biotechnology describes a new technique for producing plants with bioluminescent mushrooms that are 10 times brighter than bacterial precursors. Botanists could eventually use this technique to study the internal functioning of plants, as well as to present the possibility of glowing ornamental plants in our homes.
The Russian Academy of Sciences’ Karen Sarkisyan and Ilia Yampolsky led the new study, which describes tobacco plants that were genetically modified to express a recently discovered bioluminescent system found in mushrooms. Tobacco was chosen because it has a simple genetic structure and grows quickly, but the new technique should work in other plant species as well.
Caffeic acid, an organic molecule found in all plants, is essential to the process. Two enzymes convert caffeic acid into a luminescent precursor, which is then treated with a third enzyme, resulting in an oxidized molecule capable of emitting photons, or light. Surprisingly, the plants produced around 10 billion photons per minute at wavelengths ranging from 500 to 550 nanometers (the green range of the visible light spectrum). Plants and mushrooms are not related, but the researchers used a metabolic process that is compatible with both.
This resulted in self-sustaining plants that generate their luminescence without the use of foreign biochemicals. They glowed continuously throughout their life cycles, and the change did not appear to affect their normal development and health. The gleam can be seen with the naked eye in the leaves, stems, roots, and flowers of bioengineered plants.
These plants have the potential to be used as ornamental plants, which is exciting. That is precisely what these researchers are thinking, as the research has resulted in the formation of a new company called Light Bio. Planta LLC, a Moscow-based biotech startup, contributed to the project’s funding, so commercial implications were considered from the beginning. The Russian Science Foundation and the Skolkovo Foundation also keeping all options open to develop this concept to reality.
The discovery could open up new avenues for scientists to study the inner workings of plants, such as monitoring their glow to study a plant’s metabolism. Younger plants glowed brighter than older ones, and flowers were found to be the most luminous part. The glows occasionally ebbed and flowed in patterns, hinting at unknown internal processes.
Now clean up space next to your bed for the glowing succulents or the plant of your choice.
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