Imagine that instead of turning on the lights when it gets dark, you can read a book by the light of a luminous plant on your desk, or take a walk under the light of a bright tree instead of electric lights. The luminous plants It has always been the object of study by scientists.
For this reason, we are going to dedicate this article to telling you what luminous plants are and what studies there are on it.
Studies on luminous plants
Engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge (Massachusetts, USA) have taken the first fundamental steps to bring to life the scenario that today seems to have disappeared from science fiction tales.
A team led by Dr. Michael Strano, a distinguished professor of chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, incorporated a series of special nanoparticles (microscopic particles) into the leaves of cress plants, inducing them to emit a dim light for almost four hours.
The researchers believe that when they manage to optimize this nanotechnology, the plants will become bright enough to illuminate work spaces. A team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has cultivated plants that can glow for almost 4 hours and illuminate book pages at close range.
This technology could also be used to provide low-intensity indoor lighting or to turn trees into automatic streetlights.
Advantages of luminous plants
What are the main advantages and benefits of using luminous plants to illuminate interiors and streets? Designing living plants for visible light emission and sustainable lighting is compelling because plants have independent energy generation and storage mechanisms.
Plants are doubly carbon negative, which means that they consume CO2 by producing fuel and are themselves a product of carbon sequestration (conversion of CO2 into organic compounds) in the atmosphere. When the technique is optimized, the researchers say, they will be able to illuminate entire workspaces or be used for public lighting.
Plants are the ultimate in sustainable biomimetic lighting that is not dependent on any human infrastructure and adapt well to outdoor environments. They repair themselves, they already exist where we want them to function as electric lights, they survive and persist in different weather events, they have their own water source, and they also do all of the above autonomously.
Vegetation out of the ordinary
The so-called “nanobionic plants” are a new field of research promoted by Strano’s laboratory, in which they incorporate different types of nanoparticles and engineer plants to take over many of the functions now performed by electronic devices.
According to MIT, Strano’s team has already applied the technology to engineer plants that can detect explosives and transmit that information to a smartphone, as well as vegetables with electronic sensors in their leaves that respond when it warns when the water level is low.
Agency scientists also developed a nanobionic plant capable of capturing more than 30 percent of light energy, inserted carbon nanotubes into cells that produce photosynthesis, and made it possible to detect pollutants such as nitric oxide gas.
Professor Strano’s team have previously developed nanobionic plants with enhanced photosynthesis and the ability to detect contaminated gases, explosives and drought conditions.
«Lighting, which accounts for about 20 percent of global energy consumptionis one of the logical targets for these very specific plant technologies,” Strano said, noting that “Plants can repair themselves, have their own energy, and have adapted to the outside environment.
To create their glowing plants, the MIT team turned to luciferase, the enzyme that makes fireflies glow. Luciferase acts on a molecule called luciferin, causing it to emit light, while another molecule called coenzyme A aids the process by removing a byproduct of the biochemical reaction that inhibits the activity of the luciferin enzyme.
Nanoparticles and vegetables under high pressure
The MIT team packaged each of these three components into different types of carrier nanoparticles made from materials classified as “generally recognized as safe” by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A glowing MIT logo plant is imprinted on rocket blades, which are infused with a mix of nanoparticles.
According to Strano’s team, these nanoparticles help each component reach the correct part of the plant and they prevent those components from reaching concentrations that could be toxic to the plant itself.
According to the authors of the US Department of Energy-funded study, the researchers used silica nanoparticles to transport luciferase and slightly larger particles of the polymers PLGA and chitosan to transport luciferin and coenzyme A, respectively.
To incorporate carrier nanoparticles into plant leaves, the researchers first suspended the nanoparticles in a liquid solution, then submerged the plants in the liquid, and finally applied high pressure to the plants to force the particles into the leaves through tiny pores called stomata, according to MIT.
At the beginning of the project, the researchers produced plants that They glowed for about 45 minutes and have since perfected the process to make them glow for 3,5 hours.
Currently, a 10-centimeter seedling of cress produces about a thousandth of the amount of light needed to read, but the researchers believe they can increase both the amount of light emitted and the duration of this light energy by further optimizing the rate.
Luciferase acts on a molecule called luciferin and forces it to glow. A molecule called coenzyme A is also involved in this process.which makes it easy.
Each of these components is carried by a nanoparticle, which ensures they get to the right place and prevents them from concentrating in a particular place, which could be toxic to the plant. The researchers managed to make the plants glow for about three and a half hours.
And although the light they get is relatively dim, they believe it is possible to increase the intensity and duration of the light. Unlike previous experiments, which managed to make specific types of plants glow through a much more complex process, the method developed by the MIT researchers can be applied to any type of plant.
I hope that with this information you can learn more about what are the luminous plants and their characteristics.