Houseplants are found in most households, but none of the owners would have ever considered using these plants as an alternative to lighting. That thought will soon enter everybody’s mind as MIT scientists are working on glowing plants.
The engineers have already hacked watercress plants to make them glow for a few hours at a time, even though the light is very dim at the moment, their aim is to make them bright enough that you can read just by the light from the plants, reducing the need for electric lighting. The researchers wanted to tackle lighting as that is the cause of 20% of the energy consumption worldwide.
“The vision is to make a plant that will function as a desk lamp – a lamp that you don’t have to plug in,” says Michael Strano, senior author of the study. “The light is ultimately powered by the energy metabolism of the plant itself.”
The team behind the project is familiar with the use of nanoparticles and is embedding specially-designed nanoparticles into the leaves of watercress plants. The researchers copied the phenomenon used by fireflies. They get their glow through the interaction between an enzyme called luciferase and a molecule called luciferin. Both these enzymes were added. Another molecule called co-enzyme was added to boost their performance. All these components were packed inside nanoparticles and suspended in a solution. Next, the plants were soaked in the solution and pressurized, causing the particles to enter the leaves. The enzymes reacted within the plant giving it a glow.
The glowing plants show a very dim light as of now but the researchers are working to boost the brightness. Initially, the plants only glowed for 45 minutes but they have successfully extended that duration to three and a half hours. The MIT researchers say that their method is simpler than the previous ones tried to make the plants glow. All the previous attempts met with failure and this is the first time, such an effort has borne fruit.
The team believes that their method can be used on any type of plant and, in the future, the soaking method could be replaced by a spray-on paint to make glowing plants. This could then be used on the trees, lighting our streets or in our backyard.
“Our target is to perform one treatment when the plant is a seedling or a mature plant, and have it last for the lifetime of the plant,” says Strano. “Our work very seriously opens up the doorway to streetlamps that are nothing but treated trees, and to indirect lighting around homes.”
We will know more about the promising prospect of glowing plants as the researchers continue their research and experiments. You can see a video about these plants below: