Lighting your home or office when it's dark outside requires artificial light typically powered by electricity, which costs money every time you use it. But what if instead you could rely on a plant as a light source? That's exactly what engineers at MIT are trying to create.

As MIT News reports, a team of engineers led by Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and the senior author of the study, are embedding specialized nanoparticles into the leaves of plants which induce them to glow.

The first experiment using this technique called plant nanobionics, involved adding the nanoparticles to a watercress plant after which the leaves glowed for four hours. The light was low intensity, but it's a good start.

Making a plant glow was achieved by combining the enzyme luciferase and the molecules luciferin and co-enzyme A inside 10nm silica nanoparticles. Those nanoparticles were then added to a solution the plant was submerged in and then exposed to high pressure which forces the nanoparticles into the leaves through the tiny stomata pores. As to why this makes the leaves glow, it's all thanks to those luciferase enzymes, which is what fireflies use to achieve their glowing state.


In these early experiments the light generated by the leaves is nowhere near bright enough to read a book by let alone light a room. However, the research team is confident they can drastically boost the brightness as well as the length of time light is emitted. A plant could well replace your desk lamp one day.

Strano says that plants are a logical target for creating a light source as they can, " self-repair, they have their own energy, and they are already adapted to the outdoor environment." It is hoped that one day it will be possible to light your home using plants, and that the trees lining our streets can double as street lights at night. He also hopes the application method can be simplified to the point where the nanoparticles can be sprayed on to the plant.

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