Off-grid glowing plants may be coming to a street corner near you

Before the world was wired, the day began and ended with the sun. Work had to be done efficiently so that not a moment of precious daylight was wasted. Now, with easy access to electricity, we light up the night so that life goes on, even in the dark.

But all of that artificial light is costly and producing the electricity from fossil fuels is bad for the planet.

Off-grid lighting solutions, like solar and wind-powered luminaries, have been suggested, but what if we took the concept one step further to eliminate the lights altogether? 

Tech entrepreneur Antony Evans, synthetic biologist Omri Amirav-Drory and plant expert Kyle Taylor are the creative minds behind the Glowing Plant project. Using better DNA sequencing and printing, they have improved upon the naturally bio-luminescent plant. Some say this breakthrough could one day allow us to light out homes and streets with glowing plants instead of light bulbs.

Image via Glowing Plant Project

The idea might seem the stuff of science fiction, but with over 4,000 backers raising over $230,000 on Kickstarter to support the project, there are apparently plenty of people who want to see it become reality.

“To create the glowing plants, the team will first generate modified genes with the Genome Compiler software, then insert them into Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant related to mustard and cabbage (they make sure to point out that the plant is not edible). The main gene, luciferase, is the same one that makes fireflies light up the night,” according to Singularity Hub.

The best part of the project is that it’s being conducted under the principles of “radical openness” which is like open source on steroids. “All of the output from this project will be released open source – the DNA constructs, the plants etc. If you get seeds from your plants they are your seeds to grow more plants or give to your friends as you wish,” write the founders. “DNA designs are already publicly available and if you download Genome Compiler’s software you can view them.”

Of course, any time you’re dealing with genetic modification, there are risks. Will glowing plants have a negative effect on regular flora nearby? What happens if you kill a glowing plant…can you compost it safely? Glowing Plant project has anticipated and prepared for some of these challenges, while others still loom. For now, the ultimate goal is education and awareness.

“More than lighting streets it’s about educating and inspiring the public – it’s not as dangerous as people think. We want to put a beautiful plant in their hands and show them it’s useful and safe,” Evans told Singularity.