Glow-In-The-Dark Plants: 'Starlight Avatar,' The World's First Bioluminescent Plant, Can Now Be Yours

By Josh Lieberman on January 16, 2014 5:52 PM EST

bioglow
Bioglow's Starlight Avatar plant glows in the dark. Twenty of the plants are being auctioned off. (Photo: Bioglow)

If you've always dreamed of owning a glow-in-the-dark plant (if so, you have weird dreams), now's your chance.  Bioglow, a biotechnology based in Missouri, is auctioning off 20 of their Starlight Avatars, bioluminescent plants which grow green in the dark. (You might not want to spend too much, though: they die after two or three months.)

The glow-in-the-dark plants are a tweaked version of the plant Nicotiana alata. Bioglow's mad scientists create the glow by splicing luciferins into the plant's genes. Luciferins, which are found in fireflies, dinoflagellates, and certain snails, among other creatures, are compounds that create bioluminescence. In the Starlight Avatar, the luciferns lead to a "dim ambient glow," as Bioglow describes it. 

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The company has been working on the Starlight Avatar for several years and described the concept in 2010 in PLoS One. In December of last year, the company announced it was releasing the glow-in-the-dark plant commercially. Alex Krichevsky, Bioglow's founder and chief scientist, told NBC that since 2010 his company has "succeeded in improving the light output multiple-fold." 

Bioglow isn't the only company working on glow-in-the-dark plants: the successfully Kickstarted Glowing Plant project is an open-source project which also inserts bioluminescent material into plants. Unlike Starlight Avatars, Glowing Plant ships in seed form, which they say will happen this summer. 

If you're wondering whether tinkering with nature like this has gotten some people agitated, well, of course it has. One critic of the Glowing Plant plan, Guardian columnist Martin Lukacs, admits that it's hard to not be intrigued by the plan, "especially when the US company behind it invokes the possibility of turning your living room into the glowing Pandora landscape of the Avatar movie." But ultimately, Lukacs writes, Glowing Plant is a dangerous idea.

"[T]his project is anything but a benign science trick. These plants are being re-engineered using a highly controversial new technique by a biotech company that could side-step the possibility of regulation--and build public acceptance of a wider corporate-backed quest to manipulate nature and profit off of it." Lukacs adds: "Little is known about the impacts of synthetic biology, or even how to assess its biosafety impacts. But what we do know is nature is complex and reacts in unexpected ways to fundamental interventions....That's why almost every credible body that's evaluated the still immature field of synthetic biology has responded by urging grave caution."

You still want a glow-in-the-dark plant though, don't you? 

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