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Brief Published: 23 Sep 2013

Bacteria-Powered Light Bulb


Students at the University of Wisconsin in the US have proposed an innovative alternative to the traditional electric bulb: a light source illuminated by E. Coli.

The eco-friendly Biobulb would be powered by a strain of the bacteria created in a lab (made safe by removing the pathogens that make humans ill), offering a way to light our homes without the use of electricity.

E. Coli – a common bacteria found in the intestines of humans and other animals – is not a naturally fluorescent bacteria. However, the students plan to add a plasmid that will give the bacteria the genes for bioluminescence, enabling the microbes to emit light in the same way as fireflies or jellyfish.

The brainchild of Michael Zaiken, Alexandra Cohn and AnaElise Beckman, the Biobulb project achieved its funding goal on crowdfunding platform Rockethub last month.

“The Biobulb is essentially a closed ecosystem in a jar,” says Zaiken in the group’s video pitch. “It’s going to contain several different species of micro-organisms, and each organism plays a role in the recycling of vital nutrients that each of the other microbes need to survive.” With the addition of ambient light during the day – which will encourage the bacteria to stay alive and grow – the Biobulb should continue glowing for months. 

For more potential applications of bacteria, see Bacteria: Fabric of the Future? and Bacteria Biofuel.