Engineers create glowing plants could replace lamps

Engineers create glowing plants that could replace lamps

6:19 AM, 2nd January 2018
Illumination of a book with the nanobionic light-emitting plants (two 3.5-week-old watercress plants). The book and the light-emitting watercress plants were placed in front of a reflective paper to i
Illumination of a book with the nanobionic light-emitting plants (two 3.5-week-old watercress plants).

CAMBRIDGE, US: Imagine that instead of switching on a lamp when it gets dark, you could read by the light of a glowing plant on your desk.

MIT engineers have taken a critical first step toward making that vision a reality. By embedding specialized nanoparticles into the leaves of a watercress plant, they induced the plants to give off dim light for nearly four hours. They believe that, with further optimization, such plants will one day be bright enough to illuminate a workspace.

“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,” said Michael Strano, the Carbon P Dubbs professor of chemical engineering at MIT and the senior author of the study.

This technology could also be used to provide low-intensity indoor lighting, or to transform trees into self-powered streetlights, the researchers said.

MIT postdoc Seon-Yeong Kwak is the lead author of the study, which appears in the journal Nano Letters.

Nanobionic plants

Plant nanobionics, a new research area pioneered by Strano’s lab, aims to give plants novel features by embedding them with different types of nanoparticles. The group’s goal is to engineer plants to take over many of the functions now performed by electrical devices. The researchers have previously designed plants that can detect explosives and communicate that information to a smartphone, as well as plants that can monitor drought conditions.

Lighting, which accounts for about 20 percent of worldwide energy consumption, seemed like a logical next target.

“Plants can self-repair, they have their own energy, and they are already adapted to the outdoor environment,” Strano said. “We think this is an idea whose time has come. It’s a perfect problem for plant nanobionics.”

To create their glowing plants, the MIT team turned to luciferase, the enzyme that gives fireflies their glow. Luciferase acts on a molecule called luciferin, causing it to emit light. Another molecule called co-enzyme A helps the process along by removing a reaction byproduct that can inhibit luciferase activity.

The MIT team packaged each of these three components into a different type of nanoparticle carrier. The nanoparticles, which are all made of materials that the US Food and Drug Administration classifies as “generally regarded as safe,” help each component get to the right part of the plant. They also prevent the components from reaching concentrations that could be toxic to the plants.

The researchers used silica nanoparticles about 10 nanometers in diameter to carry luciferase, and they used slightly larger particles of the polymers PLGA (polylactic-co-glycolic acid) and chitosan to carry luciferin and coenzyme A, respectively. To get the particles into plant leaves, the researchers first suspended the particles in a solution. Plants were immersed in the solution and then exposed to high pressure, allowing the particles to enter the leaves through tiny pores called stomata.

Particles releasing luciferin and coenzyme A were designed to accumulate in the extracellular space of the mesophyll, an inner layer of the leaf, while the smaller particles carrying luciferase enter the cells that make up the mesophyll. The PLGA particles gradually release luciferin, which then enters the plant cells, where luciferase performs the chemical reaction that makes luciferin glow.

The researchers’ early efforts at the start of the project yielded plants that could glow for about 45 minutes, which they have since improved to 3.5 hours. The light generated by one 10-centimetre watercress seedling is currently about one-thousandth of the amount needed to read by, but the researchers believe they can boost the light emitted, as well as the duration of light, by further optimizing the concentration and release rates of the components.

Plant transformation

For future versions of this technology, the researchers hope to develop a way to paint or spray the nanoparticles onto plant leaves, which could make it possible to transform trees and other large plants into light sources.

“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,” Strano said. “Our work very seriously opens up the doorway to streetlamps that are nothing but treated trees, and to indirect lighting around homes.”

The researchers have also demonstrated that they can turn the light off by adding nanoparticles carrying a luciferase inhibitor. This could enable them to eventually create plants that shut off their light emission in response to environmental conditions such as sunlight, the researchers say.

The research was funded by the US Department of Energy.

© MIT

0 Comments

Login

Your Comments (Up to 2000 characters)
Please respect our community and the integrity of its participants. WOC reserves the right to moderate and approve your comment.

Related News


Borouge, Utico partner on longest water transmission pipeline

ABU DHABI, UAE: Borouge has partnered with Utico FZC, a water management and treatment solutions provider in carrying out the largest (polyethylene) P ...

Read more
ROMIL Hi-Dry anhydrous solvents for water determination

WATERBEACH, UK: ROMIL Ltd said that its Hi-Dry anhydrous solvents take the high purity concept of ROMIL-SpS Super Purity Solvents one step further. Th ...

Read more
North American chemical cos in 2018 - Elusive top line growth

NEW YORK, US: Fitch Ratings has a stable outlook on the North American chemical industry and most chemical company issuer ratings, supported by expect ...

Read more
New structure of key protein holds clue for better drug design

LA JOLLA, US: Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have peered deep into the heart of a key protein used in drug design and discovered ...

Read more
Siegfried reaches manufacturing, supply agreement with Keryx

ZOFINGEN, SWITZERLAND: Siegfried and Keryx Biopharmaceuticals Inc have entered into a master manufacturing services and supply agreement. Under the ag ...

Read more
Chemists provide theoretical interpretation to understand chemical reactions

ALBUQUERQUE, US: In a lot of ways, understanding quantum mechanical equations in an effort to predict what will happen between reactants such as atoms ...

Read more
www.worldofchemicals.com uses cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. By using this site, you agree to our Privacy Policy and our Terms of Use. X