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Brief Published: 29 Apr 2013

Glowing Plants: Natural Street Lighting


Crowdfunding website Kickstarter has attracted its first-ever synthetic biology proposal: to create glow-in-the dark plants. A group of students from California-based institutions Stanford University and Singularity University are behind the project, which they hope will be the first step in using plants to replace conventional streetlights.

The PhD students plan to use software from Genome Compiler – a programme for designing DNA code created by a US startup of the same name – to input bioluminescence genes into a small Arabidopsis plant, a member of the mustard family. Inspired by fireflies and luminescence in aquatic creatures, the team hopes to develop a strand of plants as the first step towards creating a natural, sustainable light source.

“We live in a world that is generating too much carbon dioxide,” Antony Evans, one of the three people behind the project, told technology website Techcrunch. “Nature has figured out ways of creating energy that don’t require so much CO2 use, and what we really want to do is awaken people to the potential of that.”

The project needs $65,000 in funding from Kickstarter to purchase and print the genes identified on the Genome Compiler. In return, backers are offered “maker” kits to create their own glowing plant at home.

To discover more about the applications of biology in social design, take a look at MetaboliCity, Loop.pH: Metabolic Design and Alter Nature: We Can.