These ghostly glowing flowers that dip a book in greenish light are in the laboratory of Michael Strano and Seon-Yeong Kwak. Chemical engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are researching to make plants shine through nanoparticles - much like the colorful lights of the forest in the science fiction box office hit "Avatar". The team has previously developed plants that fluoresce in the soil from explosives and other suspect chemicals. The light of the detection plants is then registered by camera and sent a warning about to a smartphone. As around 20 percent of the energy needed for artificial lighting is consumed worldwide, it was a logical step for the scientists to develop plants that will replace reading or even street lamps in the future and thus save energy.
The luminous effect of laboratory plants is based on three components: luciferin, a molecule which, together with the corresponding enzyme luciferase, causes fireflies to light up, and the so-called co-enzyme A. This transports luciferin and luciferase waste products. Otherwise the enzyme would be inhibited and the shimmering diminished.
With this method, the plants light up for about three and a half hours. Although their light is still too weak to read, the Strano and Kwak light clearly outperforms other genetically modified plants from similar experiments. And maybe consumers can eventually put a Christmas tree in the living room, which brings almost its own lighting.
Photo: Seon-Yeong Kwak ad© science.de - Jana Burczyk