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