Scientists at MIT used specialized nanoparticles to create plants that can emit light. The engineers then used an LED to charge the particles embedded in the plant's leaves. Ten seconds of LED charge and the plants stay bright for several minutes.
Michael Strange, a professor of chemical engineering at MIT and senior author of the new study, says the group wants to go further and develop plants that can absorb light, store it, and slowly re-emit it. If perfected, this method could enable plant lighting to become a reality in homes and businesses around the world. The research was published in Science Advances.
Bright plants - not the first attempt
The MIT team has been working on the project for at least 4 years. In 2017, the first plants with bright characteristics were born. The 2021 version is able to emit a much stronger light: it is a change considered significant, which justifies new efforts to obtain an acceptable final result.
How did they do it?
Scientists have introduced enzymes such as luciferase, found in fireflies, nanoparticles. The beauty of this approach is that scientists can mix and match functional nanoparticles and then insert them into living plants, "testing" and optimizing these authentic superpowers. It is a very interesting field called “vegetable nanobionics”.
Luminous plants are a prime example of what the interaction between plant organisms and non-biological nanostructures can produce: plants can have very different functional properties, and also different roles for us. How about an agave that also acts as a lamp in the living room? And a beautiful tree-lined avenue that lights up by itself in the evening?
The next step could be biomimetic materials to detect chemical changes, or greater efficiency in regeneration (to improve crops).