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Technology & Innovation

In Place Of Streetlamps, A Row Of Glowing Trees?

A group of hobbyists has embarked on a project that involves inserting synthetic DNA into plants to turn them into light sources. Needless to say, environmentalists are concerned.

What’s the Latest Development?

Two weeks after launching a Kickstarter campaign, Antony Evans and a small group of biotech hobbyists and entrepreneurs have raised over $250,000 to fund their efforts to create plants that glow in the dark. They plan to do this by employing synthetic biology, which differs from genetic engineering in that it involves inserting artificially-created DNA — not naturally-occurring DNA — into a living organism. Although their first target is Arabidopsis thaliana — also known as “the laboratory rat of the plant world” — they hope to eventually create “sustainable natural lighting” that could be used in place of a reading lamp or even a streetlight.

What’s the Big Idea?

“Gifting” plants and animals with their own personal light source is not a new endeavor. What worries environmentalists such as Friends of the Earth — which has submitted a complaint to the US Agriculture Department — is that this particular project is taking place outside of any official academic or corporate organization, which could lead to more unregulated projects and the creation of potentially dangerous organisms. While Evans insists that their project will be safely carried out, he says, “We are very cognizant of the precedent we are setting.” 

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Read it at The New York Times


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