Kickstarter Support For Sustainable Lighting Using Glowing Plants
May 8, 2013

Glowing Plants For Sustainable Lighting Wins Strong Crowdfunding Support

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

A project to use glowing plants to create sustainable light sources has generated a flurry of interest and financial support on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter.

With 30 days yet to go, the Glowing Plant initiative has already raised more than a quarter million dollars — far surpassing its initial goal of $65,000 — from more than 4,500 backers, each of which are promised seeds for glowing plants in exchange for their investment.

The team behind the project says they will use Synthetic Biology techniques and Genome Compiler's software to insert bioluminescence genes into Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant and member of the mustard family, to create a plant that visibly glows in the dark.

Arabidopsis was selected because it is easy to experiment with and carries only a slight risk for spreading into the wild. But the team hopes the same process will work for a rose, which will likely be more commercially appealing.

"Inspired by fireflies...our team of Stanford-trained PhDs are using off-the-shelf methods to create real glowing plants in a do-it-yourself bio lab in California,” the Glowing Plants team told BBC News.

The funds raised through Kickstarter will be used “to print the DNA sequences we have designed using Genome Compiler and to transform the plants by inserting these sequences into the plant and then growing the resultant plant in the lab,” wrote team leader Antony Evans on the project´s Kickstarter page.

Printing DNA costs a minimum of 25 cents per base pair, and the team will use sequences about 10,000 base pairs long.

“We plan to print a number of sequences so that we can test the results of trying different promoters — this will allow us to optimize the result,” Evans wrote.

Transforming the plant will initially be done using the Agrobacterium method, in which the printed DNA is inserted into a special type of bacteria that can insert its DNA into the plant.

“Flowers of the plant are then dipped into a solution containing the transformed bacteria,” Evans explained.

“The bacteria injects our DNA into the cell nucleus of the flowers which pass it onto their seeds which we can grow until they glow!”

Agrobacteria are increasingly being used in genetic engineering because they can transfer DNA between themselves and plants. The team posted a video of this process on their Kickstarter page.

The Agrobacterium method will only be used for prototypes, as the bacteria are plant pests and any use of such organisms is heavily regulated.

For the seeds that will be sent to the public, the team will use a gene gun that coats nanoparticles with DNA and inserts them into plants.

This step is more complicated, and there are risks the gene sequence gets scrambled, “but the result will be unregulated by the USDA and thus suitable for release,” Evans said.

The Kickstarter funds will also be used to develop an open policy framework for DIY Bio work involving recombinant DNA.

“This framework will provide guidelines to help others who are inspired by this project navigate the regulatory and social challenges inherent in community based synthetic biology.”

The framework will include recommendations for what kinds of projects are safe for DIY Bio enthusiasts, and recommendations for the processes that should be enacted.

All of the project´s output, including the DNA constructs and the plants, will be released open-source, the team said on its Glowing Plant Web site.

Harvard Medical School professor of genetics George Church, a backer of the project, said that biology could provide great inspiration for more sustainable light sources.

“Biology is very energy-efficient and energy packets are more dense than batteries. Even a weakly glowing flower would be a great icon,” he said according to BBC News.

Austen Heinz, founder of Cambrian Genomics, is another backer of the project. The Glowing Plants team will use Cambrian´s breakthrough laser printing system, which dramatically reduces the cost of DNA synthesis.

“DNA laser printing will change life as we know it, starting with glowing plants,” Heinz said.

Evans, along with fellow team leaders Omri Amirav-Drory, a synthetic biologist, and Kyle Taylor, a plant scientist, said they could envision glowing trees someday being used as streetlights.

With a month of fundraising left to go, the project seems off to a spectacular start.