Glow-in-the-dark trees could someday replace city street lights

Researchers in Denmark have a whimsical idea for lighting city streets and sidewalks: glow-in-the-dark trees.

Imagine: No more street lamps with broken bulbs or dimly-lit alleys. Instead, your evening stroll is illuminated by luminous trees giving off a calming blue hue. A Danish startup called Allumen wants to make this sci-fi fantasy a reality. The goal is to isolate the genes that cause some creatures to glow, and use those genes to genetically engineer trees to do the same thing.

Cool! But why?

Street lights are incredibly expensive. According to Fast Company, street lights make up the largest chunk of some cities’ energy bills. Plus, lighting a city contributes to a lot of emissions. Cities that have switched to more environmentally-friendly lighting options have seen their carbon emissions plummet. Switching to LED lights, for example, was projected to reduce Detroit’s emissions by around 40,000 tons a year. Bioluminescent trees would be another, even greener alternative.

Bioluminescence is a chemical reaction that some living things — like fireflies, jellyfish, and a few kinds of algae — use to produce their own light. It’s an incredibly beautiful phenomenon, but more importantly, it requires no energy consumption.

“The real advantage of changing to a biological system is that the algae, for example, or the plant, they only need CO2 and sunlight and some water,” Kristian Ejlsted, CEO of Allumen, told Fast Company.

But tweaking the genetic makeup of plants is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a complex process. And Allumen isn’t the first company to try it. Back in 2013, The Glowing Plant Kickstarter campaign raised more than $480,000 with a plan to insert genes into a plant to make it glow, but was eventually unsuccessful in its endeavor. Project creator Antony Evans later admitted that the gene insertion process was harder than the team expected. While his team did produce a plant that gave off a faint glow, the original vision of a plant bright enough to replace lights had to be abandoned when the project ran out of money. “We did not anticipate some of the unknown technical challenges that we would get into,” Evans told The Atlantic.

Despite the failure of the Glowing Plant Kickstarter, researchers got a glimpse of hope last year when a team at MIT managed to embed nanoparticles inside a watercress plant. They didn’t have a lofty goal of replacing an entire city’s streetlights. …read more

Source:: The Week – Tech


Elon Musk Says Stress and Long Hours Are Taking a Toll During an ‘Excruciating Year’

Electric car maker Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk has admitted in a wide-ranging interview with The New York Times that stress is taking a heavy toll in what he calls an “excruciating year.”

In the newspaper’s account of the interview, published Friday, Musk said he was working up to 120 hours a week and sometimes takes Ambien to get to sleep.

Musk stood by his tweet last week saying he might take Tesla private.

Reports say government regulators have subpoenaed Tesla as they dig deeper into his disclosure of the potential buyout.

The subpoena signals regulators are investigating if Musk was telling the truth in his tweet about have financing locked up for a deal that analysts have estimated would require $25 billion to $50 billion.

…read more

Source:: Time – Technology


Google Employees Protest Secretive Plans for a Censored Chinese Search Engine

Google’s workforce is demanding answers over the company’s secretive plans to build a search engine that will comply with censorship in China. More than 1,000 employees have signed a letter demanding more transparency over the project so they do not unwittingly suppress freedom of speech.

In a version of the letter obtained by the New York Times, the employees say they lack the “information required to make ethically-informed decisions about our work, our projects, and our employment.”

China’s censorship requirements “raise urgent moral and ethical issues,” it adds.

The letter, which has circulated through Google’s internal communications, has gained more than 1,400 signatures, according to the Times.

Concerns over Google’s intention to re-enter China, the world’s biggest internet market, surfaced last month with reports that the Menlo Park giant had agreed to create products that would stick within the confines of the Great Firewall. According to reports, the platform would block certain sites and prohibit the search of restricted terms such as those related to religion and human rights.

Google’s last foray into the Chinese market, from 2005 to 2010, ended in a public falling out over censorship and an alleged hacking scandal.

Human rights and press freedom groups have criticized Google’s possible renewed collaboration with Beijing, which has restricted or banned many American tech companies, including Facebook and Instagram.

Google, which has not publicly addressed its plans in China, dubbed Dragonfly, declined to comment.

The employees’ pushback against the project follows a similar petition in April protesting Project Maven, a Pentagon contract to use artificial intelligence to improve weaponry. Google decided in June not to renew the contract.

…read more

Source:: Time – Technology