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Will MIT’s Plan To Use Glow-In-The-Dark Plants As A Light Source Actually Work?

By the end of 2017,  researchers at MIT stated that they had found a way to create light-emitting plants. This was done by embedding specialized nanoparticles into the leaves of watercress plants that enabled them to emit a very dim light for around four hours.

The engineers have now upscaled their light-emitting plants. They can now be charged by an LED in only 10 seconds, glow 10 times brighter than their first generation of plants, and last for several minutes.

“We wanted to create a light-emitting plant with particles that will absorb light, store some of it, and emit it gradually,” said Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and the senior author of the new study in a statement. “This is a big step toward plant-based lighting.” 

They also have the aptly named enzyme luciferase, a substance observed in fireflies. This process is an instance of the up-and-coming field of “plant nano bionics,” which allows the researchers to make ways that augment plants with unique features. 

To help plants grow longer, Strano and his team created and used a “light capacitor,” which is usually the component of an electrical circuit that can store photons and emit them when required.

This “light capacitor” mechanism could work in many different plant species, like the Thailand elephant ear, whose leaves can be more than a foot wide. Researchers aim for the plants to be used as a light source for offices, homes, etc.

It was also inspected if the silica-coated nanoparticles interfered with normal plant function. It was revealed that the glowing plants were able to photosynthesize without any interference. 

Strano and his team are working to engineer plants that give off even brighter light for longer periods of time.