In an age when society is trying to reduce energy consumption in everyday life, designers are increasing turning to nature for inspiration – called biomimicry – the method of imitation systems found in nature to solve design problems.
One Dutch designer, artist, and innovator Daan Roosegaarde is interested in lighting streets without using electricity. He is working with Alexander Krichevsky, a biotech researcher from State University of New York, and founder of BIOGLOW™, a St. Louis-based biotechnology firm that developed the first light-producing plant. Dr. Krichevsky makes the glowing plants by splicing DNA genes from luminous marine bacteria within the chloroplast genome from a common houseplant to create ‘Starlight Avatar’, which emits a light similar in type to that made by fireflies. They plan continuing their work in the United States, where it has received approval from the U.S. Department of Agrictulture for genetic engineering research.
The glow-in-the-dark plant concept has been around for a while. A University of Cambridge team modified genetic material from fireflies and the luminescent bacterium Vibrio fischerito to boost the production of light-yielding enzymes that can ultimately be inserted into genomes — they called it BioBricks.
The phenomenon of living organisms producing light or “glowing” in nature is called bioluminescense. There are over twenty independently evolved bioluminescent mechanisms found in nature as seen in deep sea fish and fireflies.
Autoluminescent plants – shrubs that produce light – are created by introducing the light-emitting pathway from marine bacteria into a plant’s chloroplasts.
Another project called Glowing Nature is designed to make ‘normal’ trees glow without using genetic modification. Using non-invasive technique, they apply a fine coating of ‘biological paint’ onto mature to make the trees glow at night. A website called Glowing Plant was successfully funded on Kickstarter, where you can pre-order your own autoluminescent plant.
Spray-on light absorbing dust would give public buildings, roads and pathways a phosphorescent shine at night, helping to improve the safety of parks and alleyways.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, an independent organization, lighting–including street lights across America’s millions of miles of urban routes–accounts for more than 1/5 of all commercial energy consumption.
The spray-on dust and glowing trees would make street lighting less necessary, thus reducing the carbon footprint of urban centers, making them more environmentally friendly.
In the not so distant future, glow-in-the-dark plants and trees could light up our cities, buildings and streets.