Imagine if plants could light up your home or living space. Engineers have now begun the research towards making that idea a reality. They’ve achieved this by embedding specialized nanoparticles into the leaves of various plants such as watercress, kale, spinach, and arugula. The nanoparticles used contain an enzyme called Luciferase, which is the same enzyme that gives fireflies their glow.
Early research efforts had first resulted in plants that emitted dim light for about 45 minutes, which they’ve since improved to approximately 4 hours. With further optimization, researchers predict that such plants will one day be bright enough to light up a workspace. Michael Strano, Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and senior author of the study, says the light is powered by the metabolism of the plant itself.” The technology could also be used to provide low-intensity indoor lighting or to transform trees into self-powered streetlights.
For later iterations of this technology, researchers hope to develop a method to spray the nanoparticles onto the plant leaves. This would, in turn, make it possible for trees and other large plants to become light sources as well. Researchers have also discovered they can alternate the light within the plants by embedding nanoparticles that hold a luciferase inhibitor. This could enable them to eventually compose plants to restrain their light emission in response to environmental conditions such as sunlight.