Glowing trees no longer only exist in fairytales!

April 3, 2019

Glowing trees no longer only exist in fairytales!

           Science has proven our imagination can become reality, whether by going to the Moon or turning wind into electricity. Now, scientists are making trees that can glow at night as a potential replacement for street lights. Can these glowing trees produce enough light for us to actually use them? Let’s find out!

           This idea originated from MIT scientists who were studying natural light produced by organisms such as fireflies, a type of algae called Noctiluca, and some types of jellyfish. This glowing property, called bioluminescence, is caused by a chemical reaction of an enzyme called Luciferase which produces light without the need of electricity. The scientists used nanotechnology to embed the enzyme (and some other molecules found in such fireflies or algae) within a plant’s structure making it glow faintly in the dark for about four hours. The experiment has so far been successfully reproduced with four types of plant — rocket, spinach, kale and watercress.

           This innovation currently faces many limitations and difficulties. It is challenging to put foreign molecules into other organisms, in this case plants, without destroying the host organism. Furthermore, the glowing plants neither produce enough light nor glow for a long enough time to be of practical use. Some biologists are also concerned that the creation of glowing trees will affect the ecosystem and other animals that use them as a habitat.

           Although the dream of creating glowing trees is still in progress, if it is successful, scientists anticipate they could be used as a replacement for streetlights which could help decrease carbon dioxide production in a large city by 40,000 tons per year, on top of significantly reducing electricity costs. We might only have a small range of faintly glowing vegetables right now, but if we keep developing them, it’s possible we may have glowing-tree-lit streets in the future!

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