Engineers Create Plants That Glow
Posted On July 8, 2020
After several years of research, a scientific team achieves an amazing result, better than expected. The reason? The DNA of a poisonous mushroom, which allows plants to light up with extraordinary intensity.
The image is ambitious and futuristic, but perhaps it is not so far from becoming reality: streets that replace streetlights with bright trees. Do you imagine? There are already many who fantasize about this possibility, which is now closer than ever.
And it is thanks to a recent study, published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, in which 27 scientists from Russia, the United Kingdom and Austria have participated. With the title ‘ Plants with genetically encoded autoluminescence ‘, they explain in detail how they have managed to create plants that shine all their lives, and with unusual intensity.
So much so that many media and users compare it with the best example we know of enlightened nature: the magical forest of Pandora in the movie Avatar.
A Great Discovery For Science
Fantastic similarities and evocations aside, the study is of great importance to science, especially biotechnology. For several decades, various teams around the world have been investigating how to achieve a result like this.
This is proven by Keith Wood, who 30 years ago helped create the first bioluminescent plant from the DNA of a firefly. In the report, it now reveals, however, that the light obtained then has nothing to do with these current images, much more spectacular.
Following this first experiment with the DNA of fireflies, scientists have continued to experiment with the DNA of bioluminescent bacteria. Ilia Yampolsky, co-author of the mentioned study, along with Karen Sarkisyan, explains that the problem with the genetics of bacteria is that it does not work well in more complex organisms. “Designing these characteristics is more difficult than moving genetic parts from one place to another,” he argues.
Finally, they have found the key they were looking for in a poisonous and bioluminescent fungus: the Neonothopanus Nambi. In 2018 they discovered which parts were responsible for its bioluminescence, and have since investigated its application to plants.
Mushrooms and plants aren’t exactly alike, of course, but they do share a common bond: one molecule, caffeic acid. In the former, it is responsible for the bioluminescence, while in plants it is present in the cell walls and reinforces them. Thus, they have used it to replicate the process in plants; and, in addition, without damaging them.
Why is it Important and How can it be Useful?
Not only does it not harm them, but, in any case, it can be beneficial for them, since the brightness achieved with the experiment is up to 10 times more powerful than that of the previous tests, allowing to see internal areas with great definition and, in some cases unknown. Thanks to the fact that plants shine, the functioning of vegetables can now be better understood.
During the sample, it is seen that some parts shine more than others, the younger ones and that the flowers do it with special strength. They also observed that glare sometimes flows, indicating internal processes. For example, they placed a banana peel nearby, which emits ethylene, and the brightness increased.
As if that were not enough, to this exploratory advantage it must be added that they do not use chemical reagents to maintain light at any time, as was necessary with other DNAs, but it remains in the plant throughout its cycle, as if it were natural.
But its application will not only be scientific but also ornamental. Because, apart from the research part, why not take advantage of them for decoration and other uses? And who better than its creators to bring them to the market?
Four organizations have collaborated in the work: the Russian startup Planta, the Bioorganic Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the London Institute of Medical Sciences and the Austrian Institute of Science and Technology.
Right after publishing the report and showing it to the world, they have created a company to market it: Light Bio.
As announced, for the moment, they use only tobacco plants, which are easy to modify and grow quickly, but they hope to do the same in roses and petunias.
Will they suffer the same fate? Will we have plants and flowers that shine and at home that we can see better? Everything points to yes.