Ever thought the glowing forests from the movie Avatar were pretty cool and wanted one yourself? Bioglow is the latest company to attempt to put such autoluminscent plants in homes with its aptly named Starlight Avatar.
Engineering plants to make them glow is not a new idea and has been around since the 1980s. Bioglow's approach involves adding genes responsible for bioluminescence from the marine bacteria Photobacterium leiognathi to the cultivated tobacco species Nicotiana tabacum. In this way, Bioglow claims it was able to achieve permanent light emission without the need for chemical additives to the exterior of the plant or the use of UV light.
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While the current results emit only faint light, said to resemble the intensity of starlight – hence the name Starlight Avatar – Bioglow hopes that in the future autoluminescent plants will be able to produce enough light to illuminate town streets. It is also working on modifying the colors emitted via luciferase mutagenesis, the mutation of enzymes responsible for light generation, and is working to have foliage glow one color, with flowers and petals another.
This and similar ventures, such as the crowd funded Glowing Plants project have not come without criticism from environmental groups, such as Friends of the Earth (FOE), worried about the spread of genetically engineered or modified (GM) products and the flow of engineered genes into nature.
The New York Times reported in May 2013 that FOE and other environmental groups had lobbied both the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Kickstarter to have the Glowing Plant project shut down. Since then, the USDA has reviewed and approved Bioglow’s plants as safe because they are not "plant pests." Bioglow also says that the light-emitting pathway in its plants cannot be transferred by pollen to other plant populations.
Bioglow will be running on online auction for its plants that kicks off on January 31st and runs for a week.