We are no strangers to seeing tall and imposing trees all over our neighborhood. They often line up the city and rural streets to give the public shade and relief from the heat and offer a more homey vibe to the landscape. Having trees around us is really a great way to improve our health and well-being especially for all those city-dwellers who rarely have time to go out of town to simply enjoy the great outdoors. Trees lining up city streets are a staple in any major city or virtually all over the country and we don’t want it any differently. You can often find them standing tall and proud beside equally imposing traffic lights that help maintain order in busy city streets and the street lights that allow us to see things better at night.
Yet we all know that our technology keeps on progressing. Many scientists today dream of even more outrageous ideas and some may actually be beneficial for society. One of the more ambitious projects under work today is the idea of making plants light up at night rather than use city street lights that are a staple now in keeping the roads lighted and safe. They plan on realizing this by developing bioluminescent plants through nanoparticles that keep plants lighted up for up to four hours straight similar to the glow emitted by fireflies. How do they intend to do it? It all involves the use of luciferase, a molecule that triggers the luciferin, a molecule that causes things to light up.
Roads of the future could be lit by glowing trees instead of streetlamps, thanks to a breakthrough in creating bioluminescent plants.
Experts injected specialised nanoparticles into the leaves of a watercress plant, which caused it to give off a dim light for nearly four hours.
The chemical involved, which produced enough light to read a book by, is the same as is used by fireflies to create their characteristic shine.
To create their glowing plants, engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) turned to an enzyme called luciferase.
Luciferase acts on a molecule called luciferin, causing it to emit light.
Another molecule called Co-enzyme A helps the process along by removing a reaction byproduct that can inhibit luciferase activity.
While the process on how to do it has now been identified and laid down, the work is not yet over. The experts are still on the lookout for the ideal plant to be injected with this chemical that would work perfectly as glow-in-the-dark trees to light up dark city streets at night. They also have to figure out just how much concentration of this chemical will be used to keep the plant lighted up all night long without unnecessarily endangering the health of the tree due to toxic buildup. Their research is now pointing to the watercress plant that may eventually work like a desk lamp, only that it will be lighting up the outside streets instead of indoors.
A few years ago, a startup called Glowing Plants launched a campaign on Kickstarter to make plants that could glow in the dark using the same luciferase reaction. Four years after raising $500,000, they found glowing plants are a little harder to make than they expected, and their plan didn’t work out. At best, they could make plants that glowed very faintly, but not enough to illuminate anything.
The MIT researchers are using a different method to produce their glowing plants. The Kickstarter group went for a genetic solution, while the MIT group opted for embedding the proteins directly into the plants. The end result, however, is essentially the same. So far, the MIT researchers have managed to make plants that give off only a thousandth of the light required for reading.
It’s possible that with more research, the scientists might be able to improve their method. The researchers are optimistic that they’ll be able to make brighter plants soon, and they’re hoping to adapt their current method of embedding the proteins.
The plant can only light up as bright as a desk lamp that can help you read books at night but a few tweaks here and there and the scientists are hopeful that soaking plants on this solution can help them be bright enough to light up an entire room. In the future, it is highly possible that the plants will be able to replace street lights and provide a more cost-effective solution to our growing energy needs as our days are stretched farther and farther into the night. Like with any scientific experiments, it is not always a success at the first try but the key here is persistence. It won’t be surprising that researchers at MIT will eventually be able to crack the right formula for making this dream a success and actually doable in real life.
When that happens, some existing trees lining up your streets right now may need to be uprooted in favor of the glow-in-the-dark ones. Check out https://www.allcleartree.com/trimming for professional tree trimming to ensure that this modern biotechnology has a clean slate to start with.