This Light Bulb Will Get Its Glow From Bacteria, Not Electricity

Taking the fireflies-in-a-jar concept to an entirely new level, a team of undergraduates has made it to the finals of a scientific competition with their BioBulb project. The secret ingredient: Genetically-engineered E. coli.

What's the Latest Development?


University of Wisconsin-Madison students AnaElise Beckman, Alexandra Cohn, and Michael Zaiken recently launched a crowdfunding campaign to help them continue research and development for a light bulb that will get its glow not from electricity, but from bacteria -- E. coli, to be specific -- that's been genetically engineered to bioluminesce. In a video describing the project, Zaiken says the BioBulb is "essentially a closed ecosystem in a jar...[containing] several different species of microorganisms, and each organism plays a role in the recycling of vital nutrients that each of the other microbes need to survive." The project earned the team a spot in the finals of the RocketHub-Popular Science #CrowdGrant Challenge. 

What's the Big Idea?

In the video, Beckman says that the BioBulb project will help call attention to the growing field of synthetic biology, which could potentially "advance the medical field, improve food production to end world hunger, and create energy-efficient products to fuel our futures." Eventually, they'd like the bulb to be available in kit form, but there are still a number of challenges to overcome before that happens, such as figuring out the best combination of genes and organisms to include.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

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