Researchers have developed plants with genetically encoded auto luminescence. To achieve this, scientists sliced a DNA from bioluminescent mushrooms and inserted it into a tobacco plant. The technique helped in glowing the plants really bright.
This biological light can be used by scientists for observing the inner workings of plants. In contrast to other commonly used forms of bioluminescence, such as from fireflies, unique chemical reagents are not necessary for sustaining mushroom bioluminescence.
Although mushrooms are not closely related to plants, their light emission centers on an organic molecule that is also needed in plants for making cell walls. This molecule, called caffeic acid, produces light through a metabolic cycle involving four enzymes.
As explained in the study, the scientists inserted four genes from a bioluminescent mushroom, known as Neonothopanus nambi, into the DNA of tobacco plants. These genes helped in converting caffeic acid into a luciferin that helps in emitting energy as light.
In plants, caffeic acid is a building block of lignin, which helps provide mechanical strength to the cell walls. It is thus part of the lignocellulose biomass of plants, which is the most abundant renewable resource on Earth.
While scientists have earlier tried to grow these ‘glow in the dark’ plants using glowing bacteria DNA, the latest technique helps in glowing the plant 10 times brighter than the bacteria precursor.
The new discovery can also be used for practical and aesthetic purposes, most notably for creating glowing flowers and other ornamental plants. And while replacing street lights with glowing trees may prove fantastical, the plants produce a pleasant green aura that emanates from their living energy.
By connecting light production to this pivotal molecule, the glow emitted by the plants provides an internal metabolic indicator. It can reveal the physiological status of the plants and their responses to the environment.