Glowing plants: will they substitute outdoor lighting fixtures?

Scientists in California, USA, are well on their way of creating a plant, that by the concept of bioluminescence, they say could be the future of outdoor lighting. The core team of “Glowing Plant” launched a campaign on the website to raise funds for their innovative project and in early June 2013 they collected its funded goal of $484,000 USD necessary to print the needed DNA sequences and insert them into a small flowering plant member of the mustard family. But as WOW as it sounds, is it a cool idea or a terrible one?

To explain it easily, genetic engineering and synthetic biology is to take the genes from an organism and insert them into another organism. The latter, which is already a new kind of living system, you design genes on a computer and put them into another organism, as result, the creation of a new DNA that has never existed in nature.

Antony Evans, project manager of the Glowing Plant project says that the aim of the project is not only to create glowing trees that could replace outdoor luminaires in the future but to educate and inspire people about the capabilities of technology as well. The project’s fundraising, launched on on April 23rd, asked potential backers to “demonstrate their commitment to a more sustainable future” for $40 USD or more in exchange for 50 to 100 seeds of a glowing plant next year when the creation of the plant is done.

However, the controversy about the project is not only that it might be a sustainable and efficient solution for lighting in the future but as Jim Thomas, research director for the protest group ETC, says: “What’s kind of crazy about this project is that not only are they going to release an organism produced by synthetic biology, but they’re going to release it randomly, hundreds of thousands of seeds — unmonitored, uncontrolled, unregulated. It’s absolutely the worst way to begin an environmental release of a synthetic biological organism,”

Bioluminescence as the production and emission of light by a living organism and it seems as a sustainable lighting solution although the project sets a dangerous precedent. While no one knows exactly what kind of danger a glowing plant poses to the environment or human health, if any.

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