Scientists Create Glow Plants, May Replace Street Lights Soon


Has the toll of urban, industrialized life gotten too much for you? Imagine reading a book by the glow of a light, only a plant is giving you the glow. Imagine walking down the street with plants on either side – glowing plants that make life worth it. A team of scientists and professors from MIT has taken it upon itself to create glow plants that can help us coexist with nature, not against it, and the developments in their project look bright and promising. 

How can someone make plants glow?

Your first question is perhaps how someone can magically make plants glow without adding a string of fairy lights to them. This has become possible because of plant nanotechnology, a new research area that is championed by the lab of Michael Strano, one of the lead authors of the study. If you’re wondering what plant nanotechnology does, the answer is simple. This area of research seeks to empower plants for us by adding novel features to them. These features are added by embedding the plants with various kinds of nanoparticles that would assist or transform them. 

Scientists Create Glow Plants, Might Replace Street Lights Soon
First generation of glow plants, via YouTube

Back in 2017, the scientists had demonstrated the result of their original experiment. To make the plants glow, they had used luciferase and luciferin, the elements that give fireflies their light, on a watercress plant. Coupled with another enzyme that was a luciferase inhibitor, the researchers packed the three components into separate nanoparticle carriers and gave them to the plant using the stomata. The plants were able to glow for 3.5 hours, but the light was only as bright as 1/1000th of the required brightness of reading light. 

Thus they continued their toll, determined to make the plants brighter.

In 2021, they produced another result. 

This time, the plants were 10 times brighter than the first generation. The researchers used a capacitor(the part of an electrical circuit that stores and releases electricity as needed) and tweaked it to gradually release electricity in the form of photons. This capacitor was created using phosphor, a material that can absorb visible and UV light and then release it as a phosphorescent glow. For the nanoparticles, strontium aluminate was used. Before the scientists infused the plants, they coated the nanoparticles in silica to protect the plants. When infused through the stomata, these particles formed a spongy layer, a film over the leaves of the plants. This film could absorb photons from LED light or sunlight. After a single ‘charge’ of ten seconds by blue LED light, the glow of the plant lasted for nearly an hour. This light was the brightest at the beginning and gradually grew dimmer. 

This intense light acted as a ‘pulse’ that, when exposed to for merely a few seconds, the plants came to ‘life’ again. 

Is it even safe for plants?

Scientists Create Glow Plants, Might Replace Street Lights Soon
First generation of glow plants, via YouTube

One of the most astonishing results of this study was that the plants were, in fact, not harmed. After ten days of charge and glow, they continued their regular photosynthesis. The spongy layer on the stomata did not hamper the plant in performing its normal evaporation function. After conducting the experiment, researchers were also able to extract 60% of the photons and reuse that in another plant. 

What’s next? 

Scientists Create Glow Plants, Might Replace Street Lights Soon
First generation of glow plants, via YouTube

The study has been going on for several years and has advanced and improvised. The researchers are now trying to combine phosphor light particles with the firefly enzyme luciferase. At the rate of development, we can say it’s safe to assume that we will soon be able to have glow plants at homes on the streets and at many other places.

Light accounts for 20% of the global power consumption, so to have plants do that for us will be revolutionary. Light emitting glow plants can change the way we perceive living plants and electrical energy. 

Who is to say? In a few years, you might be reading by the glow of a plant, walking down a lane that looks magical and living in a green home with natural lights even at night!

You’ll also like the synthetic leaf that might help you vacation in the outer space.


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