What Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde has created looks perfect in a world like the James Cameron blockbuster, “Avatar”: trees that glow in the dark from jellyfish luminescence. Roosegaarde has always been interested in how streets could be lit sans electricity and now works with Alexander Krichevsky who has created glow in the dark, genetically-modified plants.
The Roosegaarde Project
Roosegaarde wants to learn how nature can be applied to roads, urban landscapes, built environments, and public spaces. The biotechnology company Bioglow developed the first light producing (or auto-luminescent) plants based on molecular biologist Krichevsky’s original work, first published in the international science journal “PLoS One” in 2010.
Roosegaarde is working with Bioglow and State University of New York (SUNY) scientists to use Krichevsky’s plants for an art installation of a glowing tree. By splicing bioluminescent bacteria genes with chloroplast genome from Nicotiana alata, a common pot plant, Krichevsky was able to come up with a glowing plant that emitted light similar to that which fireflies make.
According to Bioglow, located at the BRDG (Bio-Research and Development Growth) Park in St. Louis, Missouri’s Danforth Plant Science Center, this “Starlight Avatar” is the world’s first light-emitting plant which will glow continuously during its lifetime, the beginning of the company’s vision to develop green alternatives to light sources which use electricity.
Ornamental plants of novel varieties are also another innovation that Bioglow is involved in, auctioning off their first batch of glow in the dark shrubs as well as taking some pre-orders for plants that are nurturing. There are more than 20 evolved mechanisms found in glow worms, deep sea anglerfish and bacteria that are independently bioluminescent.
How Bioglow Produces Luminescent Plants
When light-emitting pathways from bacteria present in marine organisms are introduced into the chloroplasts of plants, they produce light and are referred to as “autoluminescent” plants. Bioglow’s plants have “machinery” that emit light which is encoded in their cells to allow the constant emission of visible light throughout their life cycles which are typically from two to three months.
Roosegaarde’s other project, meanwhile, dubbed “Glowing Nature,” has been designed to enable regular trees to glow sans genetic modification. To create a glow in the dark effect at night, Roosegaarde plans to use “biological paint” to coat the trees. According to multinational professional services firm Arup, headquartered in London, cities in the future will be sustained by urban farms.
Urban Farms and Glowing Trees
These farms will be grown inside and on buildings and these cities, in the future, will all have glow in the dark coverage as well. Light absorbing dust will be sprayed on public roads, buildings, and pathways to give them phosphorescent shine to help improve safety in alleyways, parks and other places that require illumination at night.
According to engineers behind the Garden Bridge project in London, trees can be made to glow if their bioluminescent genes are spliced into their branches and trunks. The new footbridge will have a public garden to span the Thames to link South Bank all the way to Temple. With bioluminescent trees, street lighting will become less of a necessity, reducing carbon footprints of urban centres.