MIT researchers create luminous trees for street lighting

MIT engineers create luminous trees as nanobionic power plants and one day can be optimized to replace streetlights. The team implanted a special nanoparticle into the leaves of a watercress plant to produce a dim light for four hours and one day will be increased in capacity.

This technology can also be used for indoor lighting with low intensity or to turn trees into street lamps. Nanobionic plants aim to give new features to plants by implanting different types of nanoparticles. Scientists report to the journal Nano Letters.

Tinuku MIT researchers create luminous trees for street lighting

"Plants will serve as table lamps, lights you do not need to plug in where the light is supported by the energy metabolism of the plant itself," said Michael Strano at MIT.

Strano and team engineered the plants to take over many of the functions now performed by electrical devices. Researchers have previously designed plants that can detect explosives to communicate information to smartphones, plants can also monitor drought conditions.

"Plants can improve themselves, they have their own energy, and they've adjusted to the outside environment. I think it's an idea the time has come," Strano said.

The MIT team using luciferase is an enzyme that gives light to fireflies. Luciferase works on a molecule called luciferin that produces light. Other molecules assist the process by removing the byproducts of the reaction which can inhibit luciferase activity.

The researchers used silica nanoparticles about 10 nanometers to carry luciferase, using slightly larger PLGA and chitosan particles to carry luciferin and coenzymes. Plants are immersed into the liquid and then exposed to high pressures that allow the particles to enter into the leaf through the stomata.

The luminous plants for 3.5 hours produced by one lettuce seed 10 centimeters, but the researchers will increase the emitted light and duration by optimizing the concentration and further discharge. The researchers hope a simple method by painting or spraying nanoparticles into plant leaves.

"Our target is seedlings and last a lifetime. Our work is very serious for street lamps that utilize trees and indirect lighting around the house," Strano said.