Scientists have been attempting to create bioluminescent plants for decades now. This article will highlight the most prominent and effective creations of scientists in the past decade regarding illuminated plants. The possibilities regarding illuminated plants are endless– highways could be completely illuminated by trees, and houses could be lit up by houseplants instead of electrical lights. Not only will this severely decrease the amount of electricity required to power cities but it will also increase the amount of plants, which helps to reduce the greenhouse effect. In a time where global warming is an increasingly concerning phenomenon, these plants can be hugely useful to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air and replenish forested areas.
In 2014, Daan Roosegaarde created a cucumber plant that had a molecular structure that included luciferin. His inspiration was to replicate the glow from bioluminescent jellyfish, which use luciferin to glow, in plants. The cucumber glows slightly in the dark, which was the basis of the inspiration behind some of the more recent inventions.
In 2017, an MIT research team discovered a method of giving plants the ability to produce light without electricity. When the plants die, they can be composted. Rather than modify the DNA of the plants, the researchers dipped plants into a solution containing specially engineered nanoparticles. These nanoparticles produce light during a chemical reaction in conjunction with fuel from the sugar within the plant's cells. An MIT Chemical Engineering professor, Micheal Strano, has succeeded in getting watercress, kale, spinach, and arugula to glow for up to 3 hours, but believes there is potential for longer-lasting and brighter plants in the future. The MIT Team used luciferase, an enzyme that gives fireflies their glow to act on luciferin to emit light. Coenzyme A helps the process by removing reaction by-products that would limit luciferase activity. To get the particles into the plant leaves, they were suspended in the solution; the plants were submerged in the solution at high pressure to get the solution to enter through the stomata. In the leaves, the particles release luciferase to enter the plant cells. Then, the plants illuminate during this reaction from their cells.
In 2020, a research team combined the DNA from bioluminescent mushrooms with the plant DNA to create plants that are significantly bright. Since bioluminescence is a part of the plant's DNA, it will continuously glow for its entire lifetime. Additionally, scientists can see the inner workings of plant life through this method. The official report in Nature Biotechnology contains the inner working science behind the mushroom's bioluminescence. This method does not harm the plant's health or growth and makes plants brighter than they naturally are by a tenfold.
The scientists also engineered tobacco plants with a fungal bioluminescence system that converted caffeic acid into luciferin to provide the plant with bioluminescent properties. These plants may become commercially available in the future