Wouldn’t you like to have your own fairyland in your backyard — a garden in which the leaves and flowers glow in darkness? If you do, help is at hand.
Engineering plants with auto-luminescence — glow in darkness — has been the quest of scientists for some time. In the recent past, notable success has been achieved.
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But how is it possible to make plants emit light? One simple way, with which scientists experimented initially, is to take the genes responsible for the glow in fireflies and inject them into plants. But there seem to be other methods too.
Scientists from the Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, produced through biosynthesis a fungal luciferin, a compound that produces a glow in luminescent fungi. These fungi use a compound called caffeic acid (not to be confused with caffeine) to achieve bioluminescence. Four enzymes act on caffeic acid to produce luciferin.
Now, caffeic acid is present in plants. The scientists genetically engineered plants to relocate some of the caffeic acid to the fungi, and allowed the fungi to do the job.
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More recently, researchers at MIT, USA, have developed plants that glow in the dark and produce light all night, by embedding them with nanoparticles that absorb light during the day and release it when it gets dark. They took a compound called strontium aluminate, gave it a protective coat of silica, and embedded it into the stomata or pores on the surface of leaves. Strontium aluminate is a ‘phosphor’ — a material that can absorb light or ultraviolet radiation and release it during the night. The scientists say that it is possible to bring in glowing plants that provide not just a fun-glowbut also actual lighting.