Biotech Updates

Engineers Create Plants that Glow

December 20, 2017

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have engineered plants that give off dim light. The MIT team used luciferase, the enzyme that gives fireflies their glowing light. Luciferase acts on the molecule luciferin, causing it to emit light. Another molecule called co-enzyme A helps the process by removing a reaction byproduct that can inhibit luciferase activity.

These three components were packed into a different type of nanoparticle carrier. The nanoparticles help each component to get to the specific part of the plant, and also prevent the components from reaching concentrations that could be toxic to plants.

The researchers used silica nanoparticles to carry luciferase, and used slightly larger particles of the polymers PLGA and chitosan to carry luciferin and coenzyme A, respectively. The plants were immersed in the solution and then exposed to high pressure, allowing the particles to enter the leaves through the stomata.  Early efforts at the start of the project yielded plants that could glow for about 45 minutes, which has since improved to 3.5 hours.

For more details, read the MIT News.