Could we eventually do away with streetlights and have our neighborhoods bathed in the diffuse glow of self-lit trees? That's the premise behind a new Kickstarter campaign that has been featured on TXNOLOGIST and Slashdot. As of this writing, the project has already received more than double its goal of $65,000, with each donor being promised a glowing plant. Long-term, the project's leaders hope to expand out to trees, which is why their promotional video talks about doing away with streetlights.
There's just one small problem: as planned, the plants won't glow. At least not without a fertilizer that costs $200 a gram. Even if the team were to overcome this hitch, trees would probably never generate enough light to do away with a street lamp.
If you follow the biosciences, you'd be forgiven for thinking that glowing creatures were a dime a dozen. For example, researchers are regularly creating glow-in-the-dark mice and fish, and the technique has been used in a variety of species. But all of this work relies on the green fluorescent protein (GFP) and its relatives, which glow in other colors. GFP is great, and it's truly worthy of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry that its development was awarded. But bioluminescent animals only glow in the sense that black light posters do: they require UV light to excite the molecule, which then releases energy in the visible spectrum.