Reality Catches Up To Sci-fi With The Glowing Plant
Kickstarter has brought us some pretty neat stuff recently but this one is truly a first. Inspired by the movie Avatar, a group setup a Kickstarter campaign to bring bio-luminescence to plants in a way nature has not gotten to yet by bio-engineering plants to glow and making them commercially available. Well not only did they meet their fundraising goals, they shattered them. The company Glowing Plants is taking pre-orders on their site for the seeds of a genetically engineered glowing flowering plant in the mustard family called Arabidopsis. The campaigns goal was to begin shipping the seeds this week, but has delayed the process until next fall. It’s not because of problems though that the delay has occurred.
They already had a working prototype of the bio-engineered glowing plant ready to go. But with all the extra money raised during the campaign they decided to ask the contributors if they should just ship it ontime or delay and up the amount of glow factor the plants emitted. Anthony Evans, CEO of the synthetic biology startup that has created the bioluminescent plant said, “We asked our backers a few months ago whether they wanted us to ship on time or to use the rest of the funds to improve the luminosity. The overwhelming advice was to improve.” Because of this they pushed back the launch of the seeds until fall.
Here is the video behind the Kickstarter campaign:
How Do They Do It?
To create the glowing plants, the scientists synthetically crossbred the Arabidopsis with a glowing ocean dwelling bacterium called Aliivibrio fischeri. Researchers had to use a synthetic approach after running into a roadblock inserting the bacterium’s DNA into the plant. They ended up having to modify the genes for it to work correctly. Using a software genetic compiler they were able to assemble the genes virtually and then outsourced the assembly of the real DNA to a specialized DNA assembling company.
The team then inserted the genes they got back into the leaves of Arabidopsis and assessed how well the plant adjusted and how much light it actually produced. As a result of that extra Kickstarter money, they’re now experimenting with a variety of slightly varied DNA sequences to achieve the perfect glow. According to Evans, they plan on testing over 1,500 different sequences. Once they have found their prized sequence, they will use a gene gun to deliver the DNA to the plant. When this plant blooms it will produce seeds that retain the new genes which gives the researchers their commercially viable product.
As With Any GMO Environmentalists Are Bitching
The term “Genetically Modified Organism” really seems to scare people because they just don’t understand exactly what they are and how much testing they actually go through before being released. I’ve talked about this in the past. As with all the GMO’s out there, this one is receiving its fair share of criticism. The fact that when these are finally sold to the public it will become the world’s biggest release of a genetically engineered plant is sending all of the environmentalists into a frenzy! They have concerns that this GMO could pose a risk to humans or could become a new invasive species. An anti-synthetic biology group in Canada even went as far as creating a “Kickstopper” campaign.
Could this plant have negative effects on the environment? The guys at Glowing Plant don’t think so. Cross pollination isn’t really a factor because the Arabidopsis self pollinates itself for reproduction. Kyle Taylor, the molecular and plant biologist at Glowing Plant said “Ask any Arabidopsis biologist how hard it is to get them cross-pollinated, and they will tell you that it’s a non-trivial thing to do.” Taylor added that it will be harder for the hybrid to survive in the wild, because light production takes extra energy, which weakens the plant. The hybrid could even confuse its own light with sunlight, which could negatively affect its metabolism.
I think this is just the beginning of crazy designer plants that we are going to see. There could be a day where the plants in your home also provide you with the light that you need and the trees that line the street could also serve as streetlights at night. “It’s gonna take a lot of work to get to that level,” Taylor says. “It’s biology, so things can pop up that we don’t fully understand.” But he adds, “We have some ideas how to get there.” Pandora, eat your heart out!
What do you think? We’d love to hear you sound off with your thoughts in the comments below!