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Trees could soon replace streetlights after scientists create plants that glow

jasper hamill

Trees could soon replace streetlights after scientists create plants that glow
One day our cities could be lit up by these shining plants (Photo: Seon-Yeong Kwak, Melanie Gonick/ MIT)

Glowing trees could soon replace streetlights, scientists have claimed after producing plants which produce light.

American researchers have discovered a way of making plants give off dim light for almost four hours.

‘The vision is to make a plant that will function as a desk lamp — a lamp that you don’t have to plug in,’ said Michael Strano, professor of chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

‘The light is ultimately powered by the energy metabolism of the plant itself.’

Scientists injected tiny nanoparticles a chemical called luciferase into the leaves of a watercress plant to make it produce low-intensity light.

Trees could soon replace streetlights after scientists create plants that glow
The researchers used watercress in their experiments (Credit: Seon-Yeong Kwak, Melanie Gonick/MIT)

This substance is the enzyme that gives fireflies their glow.

It’s hoped the technology will be refined so whole trees can be made to glow and light up city streets.

‘Plants can self-repair, they have their own energy, and they are already adapted to the outdoor environment,” Strano added.

‘We think this is an idea whose time has come.’

Earlier attempts to make plants which produce light relied on genetic engineering, but this is a laborious, costly process which doesn’t actually produce much of a glow and was only tested with two types of plants.

The new method has been shown to work with arugula, kale, and spinach as well as watercress.

Trees could soon replace streetlights after scientists create plants that glow
The plants can give off a glow for almost four hours at a time (Photo: Seon-Yeong Kwak, Melanie Gonick/ MIT)
Trees could soon replace streetlights after scientists create plants that glow
A chemical is implanted into the plants to make them light up (Credit: Seon-Yeong Kwak, Melanie Gonick/MIT)

Now the MIT scientists want to find a way to spray or paint the nanoparticles onto leaves so that whole trees could be turned into streelights.

‘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.’

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