What are Self Glowing Plants
The plants that shine are not a novelty neither for the fans of Avatar, nor it will remain for the readers of Diysomo. Three years ago we told you that a group of engineers from MIT was trying to turn any plant into a lantern.
The idea is explained alone: ”make a plant that works like a desk lamp, a lamp that does not have to be plugged in and that light is generated by the energy metabolism of the plant,” explains Michael Strano , a chemical engineer at MIT. Doing it has been more complicated, but it has been achieved. The bright watercress is already a reality.
There’s nothing brighter than a salad
We have already designed plants capable of detecting explosives, communicating with our smartphone or monitoring the drought in real time. But lighting is the real background play: it alone represents 20% of all the world’s energy consumption.
Unlike current light bulbs, “plants can self-repair, have their own energy sources are already adapted to the external environment” explained Strano . The problem is that most approaches have failed . Until now, attempts have been made to genetically modify the plants so that they generate the necessary components to generate light themselves. It is the best option, no doubt, but for now, it has taken us to a dead end.
The applied Nano bionics tries to approach the problem from another perspective: it tries to provide novel features to the plants by “encrusting” them with different types of nanoparticles . Not only has it proved more useful, it also allows us to take advantage of the plants we already have.
How they work
In order to illuminate a watercress plant for four hours, the MIT team turned to luciferase , the enzyme that (despite its name with satanic connotations) is behind the glow of fireflies . Luciferase acts on a molecule called luciferin, which emits light. Together with them, coenzyme A helps eliminate toxic byproducts and inhibitors synthesized during the reaction.
With these three components in a nano-vector manage to distribute the technology throughout the plant and, at the same time, avoid high concentrations that would be toxic to the plant. The luciferase was transported by a silica nano-particle and for the other two, they used slightly larger polymers.
The crux of the matter lies in using those nano-particles to put the plant metabolism to work ‘feeding’ those new properties. And it’s not bad. With this technique, they have managed to incorporate specialized nano-particles in leaves of a watercress plant and managed to emit a soft light for four hours. And with a different mechanism, the generation of light could be inhibited when there is sunlight.
A bright future, but a difficult implementation
The procedure seems simple, but presents logistical problems: each plant is subjected to a bath of these compounds and then to high pressures that help the particles enter the leaf through the stomata. That is, it is not easy to apply .
The good news is that by adjusting the concentrations of nanoparticles you can get enough light to read (although, even for much less than four hours). The logical evolution of this technology would lead us to develop planting to provide low-intensity interior lighting or to transform trees into autonomous lampposts. And who knows if one day we can recover the stars .