Lighting accounts for roughly 20 percent of the world’s energy consumption, so why not make it greener? Literally.
A team of MIT engineers have created living bioluminescent lamps out of watercress plants with the goal of one day replacing conventional electrical lighting with the glowing greenery. The plants were not genetically engineered into lamps. Rather, they were treated to soak up a solution of nanoproteins including luciferase, the enzyme that enables fireflies to give off their bioluminescent glow.
The breakthrough resulted in watercress that glows (rather dimly) for about four hours, but the engineers are confident that they will be able to optimize the process to create desk-lamp equivalent plants capable of illuminating a workplace. The absorption process can work on any kind of plant, and the the team hopes to evolve their method so that the bioluminescent treatment could be simply sprayed or painted on.
“The vision is to make a plant that will function as a desk lamp — a lamp that you don’t have to plug in. the light is ultimately powered by the energy metabolism of the plant itself,” says Michael Strano, a Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and the senior author of the study.