Glowing plants: Are you ready to switch on the bedside shrub?


The luminous properties can be achieved by embedding specialized nanoparticles into the leaves, which can glow for almost four hours.

The team published a paper in the journal Nano Letters on November 17 describing the process by which they embed plants with nanoparticles that take energy stored by photosynthesis and turn it into light, said Michael Strano, a chemical engineering professor at MIT and the paper's senior author.

Imagine a highway lined with trees that glow as opposed to street lamps, or using the plant on your nightstand as a reading light.

It's a wonderful thought, that the drab lamp on your desk could be replaced by a pretty glowing plant. "The light is ultimately powered by the energy metabolism of the plant itself", said Michael Strano, Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US. Since artificial lighting accounts for around 20 percent of global energy consumption they decided this was an important area to focus on.

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Co-enzyme A is also another molecule that helps this technique along by cutting the reaction byproduct which can impede luciferase activity. "It's a flawless problem for plant nanobionics". The enzyme was glued to a nanoparticle carrier that was injected into the plant. The luciferin and coenzyme A were packaged inside polymer nanoparticles that enter and build up in an inner layer of the leaf, while the luciferase was contained inside much smaller silica nanoparticles, allowing them to enter the plant cells. Those nanoparticles were then added to a solution the plant was submerged in and then exposed to high pressure which forces the nanoparticles into the leaves through the tiny stomata pores. As the luciferin is released from its particles, it too enters the cells and reacts with the luciferase, creating the glowing effect.

Leafy lights will one day be bright enough to illuminate a whole room, and could transform trees into "self-powered streetlights", suggest MIT experts. Already, they've improved the duration of the glow from 45 minutes at the beginning of the project to about three and a half hours now.

This is not the first time that MIT did something miraculous, earlier also the top-most technology institution did some revolutionary high-tech plant research.

"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. They plan to spray or paint the nanoparticles on leaves with future emphasis.