This article originally appeared on VICE US.
Bioluminescence, or the ability of life to emit light, appears in the transient eruptions of fireflies, the auroral glow of ocean plankton and the strangely bright lures of predatory animals. However, plants have never evolved into bioluminescence in nature, although scientists have tried to the engineers to shine for many decades.
Now, a team of researchers has made a breakthrough on this front by creating “brilliant plants that are at least an order of magnitude brighter than what had been achieved before,” according to a study published Monday in Biotechnology of nature.
Tobacco plants, injected with DNA from bioluminescent fungi, emitted more than a billion photons per minute, reaching a “self-sustaining luminescence that is visible to the naked eye,” the authors said. study.
The plants were developed by a team of scientists in collaboration with Planta LLC, a biotechnology startup based in Moscow, Russia, which seeks to market brilliant plants. While plants have already been modified to emit light using bioluminescent bacteria, the new study reveals the brightest genetically modified plants to date.
Tobacco plants were able to reach such a high potency (metaphorically) thanks to caffeic acid, which was recently identified as the central molecular light-emitting engine in the bioluminescent group of Neonothopanus mushroom. Since caffeic acid is also present in all plants, the team decided to introduce this fungal DNA into the genomes of tobacco plants to see if its light-emitting pathways would be reproduced in a botanical host.
The technique has resulted in bright “autoluminescent” plants that are capable of producing their own light at each stage of their life cycle. Not only did the fungal DNA eclipse the plants by their precursors, but it also literally illuminated the internal processes occurring inside these leafy species.
“As the plants have grown, the luminescence has increased in the transition zone between the root and the stem,” said the researchers in the study. “The young shoots were brighter at the terminal and axillary buds and at the top of the stem; older parts of the shoot have faded as the plants mature. “
Likewise, the aging of the leaves has diminished due to the reduction in the caffeic acid content, although “some leaves exhibited waves of intense light emission during the last stages of senescence”, explained l ‘team.
The team used tobacco plants because they grow quickly and are well studied, but in principle the same technique could light up popular household flowers such as periwinkle, petunia and rose.
Breathtaking visions of bioluminescent plants have become popular in science fiction and fantasy, but it may not take too long to plant bright greens in your own garden.