During Avatar, and surely during its many upcoming sequels, audiences are treated to the strange world of Pandora. Beside being populated by 10-foot tall aliens, the planet is also host to a number of exotic glowing plants. While this is just stuff of science fiction, it turns out it may actually be closer to reality than many of us might have thought.
Scientists at the University of California, MIT, and Berkley have just announced that they’ve created a new way to make plants glow. As explained in their paper published in Nano Letters, the team managed to tweak plants to give off visible light emissions in a way that is much more efficient than from previous methods, which relied on genetic engineering. Through these experiments, the scientists believe that they could scale the project to lessen our reliance on artificial lighting.
The joint-team has so far been able to make plants such as arugula, kale, spinach, and watercress glow. Though initial experiments only allowed the salad greens to glow for around 45 minutes at a time, later developments allowed the plants to glow for an incredible three and a half hours. Even better, the watercress was able to achieve brightness comparable to half of a commercial one-microwatt LED light. Previous studies have only been able to make genetically engineered tobacco glow, and at a brightness 10,000 times less then what has now been achieved.
To achieve their success, the team infused the plants with luciferase; the enzyme responsible for making fireflies glow. By packaging these enzymes into nanoparticles, the scientists were able to create a chemical solution that was then used to bathe the plants. Once subjected to high pressure, the nanoparticles entered the tiny pores of the plants, thus causing them to glow.
Ultimately, the team hopes to make a plant that can function as a desk lamp. So who knows, the next time you go to Ikea you might be buying watercress.
Images: Avatar/Lightstorm Entertainment, Pixabay