Glowing Plants

I just invested in BioCurious’ Glowing Plants project on Kickstarter. I don’t watch Kickstarter closely, but this is about as fast as I’ve ever seen a project get funded. It went live on Wednesday; in the afternoon, I was backer #170 (more or less), but could see the number of backers ticking upwards constantly as I watched. It was fully funded for $65,000 Thursday; and now sits at 1340 backers (more by the time you read this), with about $84,000 in funding. And there’s a new “stretch” goal: if they make $400,000, they will work on bigger plants, and attempt to create a glowing rose.

Glowing plants are a curiosity; I don’t take seriously the idea that trees will be an alternative to streetlights any time in the near future. But that’s not the point. What’s exciting is that an important and serious biology project can take place in a biohacking lab, rather than in a university or an industrial facility. It’s exciting that this project could potentially become a business; I’m sure there’s a boutique market for glowing roses and living nightlights, if not for biological street lighting. And it’s exciting that we can make new things out of biological parts.

In a conversation last year, Drew Endy said that he wanted synthetic biology to “stay weird,” and that if in ten years, all we had accomplished was create bacteria that made oil from cellulose, we will have failed. Glowing plants are weird. And beautiful. Take a look at their project, fund it, and be the first on your block to have a self-illuminating garden.

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  • fred

    what about light pollution? :)

  • floatingbones

    I was a bit put off that 5 contributors could put 30 ASCII characters worth of vanity base pairs in these GMO plants. Do we really need that kind of ego-stroking? I realize that the odds are vanishingly small that that biochemical graffiti could encode to anything, but still…

    • Andreas

      > I realize that the odds are vanishingly small that that biochemical graffiti could encode to anything

      Actually they chances are quite zero. Before each coding sequence there must be a promoter, else it is not read by the plant. Junk DNA.

      • floatingbones

        I was certain that the sequences injected would we not be confused with the 2% of our DNA that encodes to genes. I know nothing of the rules for the ~80% of our DNA identified by the ENCODE project (see http://nature.com/encode for the science or http://healthland.time.com/2012/09/06/junk-dna-not-so-useless-after-all/ for an article about the science). Further, there are consistent transcription errors; I can’t imagine how anyone say that the vanity sequences could never mutate into something functional.

        The larger issue is with the whole movement to ban GMOs. Read the kickstarter page; these proposed plants are definitely GMO plants — but the proposers include assurances that these are “good” GMOs. At best, the existence of projects like this show us that the “GMOs are bad” message is simplistic. In this game, where are the rules of “good” and “bad” written?