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Your garden is absolutely glowing, darling

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In the realm of plant care, some people have worse than a snowball’s chance in the desert at achieving success. Some attempted gardeners are chronic under-feeders. By contrast, others can’t help but flood their plant life in too much water.

In any case, many seem to lack the fundamentals of a green thumb. But don’t let us dissuade you from trying to raise that cactus in the rainforest.

In a recent development that is unlikely to help the horticulturally hopeless grow much beyond moss on a rock, researchers from Planta LLC, with support from bioluminescent plant company Light Bio, have discovered a way to brighten someone’s garden or potted plant collection. In recent work, the collaborators looked at bioluminescence pathways in the fungus Neonothopanus nambi. Their aim was to create a hybridized method for creating common plants that can sustain self-
luminescence. The endeavor builds on previous research that found that the bioluminescence process in fungi is similar to the metabolic process of plants during photosynthesis.

Effectively, the researchers are now attempting to elicit this capability in plants as a by-product of an already natural process. To this end, they identified a native gene in their plant test subjects to help with this process.

Courtesy of Light Bio.


Courtesy of Light Bio.

Historically, creating bioluminescent plants requires scientists to splice five separate genes from fungi into the selected plant.

Upon the discovery of the native bioluminescent gene, however, the collaborators can achieve their desired emittance by integrating only three fungal genes.


Though the effort remains ongoing, Light Bio has already used the technique to market a bioluminescent flower, dubbed the Firefly Petunia. The green glowing annual produces a low-level auto-luminescence at a peak wavelength of 530 nm and impressive quality.

More favorable options for, say, commercial cutting and welding remain available on the market. Still, it’s widely known that consumers like to have options. The Firefly Petunia surely isn’t the least viable candidate growing in the garden to feature in your Mach-Zehnder setup.

The researchers believe that their findings could chart a course for longitudinal bioluminescence imaging experiments. These may include the study of circadian rhythms, plant development, and other physiological factors using the metabolization used by the plants during the bioluminescence process. This, and the simplification of making plants auto-illuminate, could lead to further breakthroughs down the road.

So, whether we start using daisies as streetlights, ivy in our chandeliers, or lilac-emitting diodes (the “other” LEDs), those bereft of the green thumb will be forced to observe from afar as the rest of us bask in the soft glow of our own backyards and patios.

The research was published in Science Advances (www.doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.adk1992).

Published: May 2024
Glossary
bioluminescence
Heatless light emissions from living organisms caused by the combination of oxygen and pigments such as luciferin.
Lighter SidebioluminescenceagricultureLight SourcesBiophotonics

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