Skip to main content

Eat your heart out, ‘Avatar’ fans: MIT just figured out how to make plants glow

Glowing plants
As one of the leading technology universities in the world, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has invented a lot of the cool tech we’d love to fill our apartments with. Well, researchers there just added one more item to the list — although this one’s a bit different to the typical robotics or artificial intelligence projects we usually cover. What MIT engineers have invented is a plant that glows in the dark. By embedding specialized nanoparticles into the leaves of an otherwise ordinary watercress plant, researchers were able to get the plant to emit a dim light for a period of 3.5 hours.

Instead of using electricity, the plants utilize their existing energy metabolism and convert this into light. While a dim light might not be of much use, eventually the researchers hope that it will be possible to make the plants glow brightly enough that they could illuminate an entire desk — acting like a natural desk lamp that you never have to plug in. Thinking big, it might even be possible to turn entire trees on a street into self-powering streetlights. Considering that lighting accounts for around one-fifth of all worldwide energy consumption, that could turn out to be a valuable goal to work toward.

Related Videos

The secret ingredient giving MIT’s glowing plants their luminescence is a type of oxidative enzyme called luciferase, which is also responsible for causing fireflies to glow. Another molecule used by the researchers is called coenzyme A, which removes a reaction byproduct that otherwise slows down the luciferase activity. The researchers packaged these molecules in nanoparticles and then suspended them in liquid. When the plants were immersed in the liquid and exposed to pressure, the particles entered the plants through tiny pores called stomata.

Early on, the researchers were only able to get the plants to glow for around 45 minutes, although in newer experiments they have managed to increase this to several hours. There’s no word on when these light-emitting plants will be available to folks outside of MIT labs, but we know one thing: We totally want one.

A paper describing the work, titled “A Nanobionic Light-Emitting Plant,” was published in the journal Nano Letters.

Editors' Recommendations

Eat your heart out, Peter Parker: Scientists have created 'liquid wire' that behaves like a spider's web
spider inspired liquid wire spiderweb

Spider webs are a wonder of the natural world. Not only are they beautiful to behold, they also are unique in how they stretch and move. Unlike most threads that sag when stretched, the sticky threads of a spider web can be stretched to their breaking point and then snap back into place without losing their tautness.

Not surprisingly, scientists have been studying spider webs for years, hoping to uncover the mechanism that allows the material to stretch, yet remain tight. Now, researchers from the University of Oxford, UK and the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France believe they have the answer and have used this knowledge to build a new class of biomaterial called liquid wire.

Read more
Students try to figure out how to make $20K homes by building in a luxury community
rural studio and serenbe collaborate on 20k homes art farm cottages 0058

Homes at Serenbe, a luxury sustainable living community outside of Atlanta, start at around half a million dollars, so it might not be the first place you’d expect Rural Studio to erect a 20K Houses, so named because a $20,000 mortgage is likely the most someone living on the median Social Security could afford.

Rural Studio is part of the Auburn University architecture program and is focused on community-oriented projects. Students have come up with 16 prototypes for houses that would cost $20,000: $12,000 for materials and the rest for labor and profit. Serenbe has an artist residency program, as well as the land and resources to see a couple of the 20K Houses through production.

Read more
MIT researchers may have figured out how to harness human motion to generate electricity
running exercise workout

In our ongoing search for renewable energy resources, one of the least attainable thus far has been our own motion. But now, researchers at MIT seem prepared to change that -- in a new paper published in Nature Communications, the team details how it developed a "novel class of mechanical energy harvesters via stress–voltage coupling in electrochemically alloyed electrodes," or in English, motion-powered batteries.

Using electrochemical technology, the researchers have found a way to generate alternating current from the process of bending the new material back and forth. Essentially, the "battery" works by moving lithium ions between two electrodes. “You can think of it as two water tanks, each containing a lot of lithium,” Sangtae Kim, the MIT researcher who authored the recent paper told “In between the tanks we have this layer of electrolyte where only lithium ions can pass. In a conventional battery we move the lithium ions by supplying electricity. In this case, we press one water tank, or electrode, and that moves the lithium ions from the one electrode to the other.”

Read more