Tinkering DNA For A Glowing Future
Genetically modified bioluminescent are no longer the stuff of science fiction
By, John D. Adams
Evans and Glowing Plant are not the first scientists to develop a glowing plant hybrid. Back in the 1980s, scientists successfully integrated firefly genes into a tobacco plant. While successful, the process is primarily used to study plant development. Evans is taking this technology in a far more audacious direction. “We have just recently begun the most significant experiments,” he says. “We have refurbished a Gene Gun, which allows you to fire DNA at cells to get the DNA into the cells. We have also been doing some agro bacterium transfers, which is another way to introduce a foreign DNA into existing cells. We hope to have our first glowing plants as early as January 2014.”
So how does this all work? Incredibly, we are at a point where DNA can be designed on a computer, which can then be produced synthetically. “You can now write DNA sequences on the computer and have them made for you,” Evans says. “We are at the level where we can manipulate individual molecules and atoms in a DNA strand.” We source the DNA sequences from bioluminescent bacteria that squids store in their bellies, which allows them to hunt at night using this organic “flashlight” and then modify the designs to optimize the ability for plants to read them.
That manufactured DNA is then introduced into the plants either by use of a Gene Gun or by an agro bacterium transfer. A Gene Gun fires the manufactured DNA at extraordinarily high velocity at a plant’s cells. Some of that DNA is left behind in those cells, creating that bioluminescence. With agro bacterium, the researchers are using a modified version of the wild type agro-bacteria – this is nature’s own genetic engineer which has figured out a way to insert its DNA into a plant.
As for those who may have worries about what genetically engineered plants could do to their surrounding populations or environments, Evans stresses: “We have obviously thought about that a lot. We are not introducing antibiotic resistance or herbicide resistance; we are doing anything that gives these plants a selective advantage to other plant species.”
In April, Glowing Plant began a highly successful fundraising campaign through kickstarter.com. The company raised nearly $500,000 in just two months, highlighting the interest and excitement investors and the general public feel toward the project. Now that their infrastructure is in place, Evans believes they will have viable bioluminescent plants and, hopefully, a special glowing rose in 2014. “Doesn’t everyone want to show their partners how they light up their life?” jokes Evans. “Then we want to move to bigger and brighter projects. Perhaps a houseplant, and ultimately we want to concentrate on much larger plants that can be used as outdoor lighting sources in your own backyard or on Interstates… Synthetic technology probably has the biggest potential as a source of good for the human race in the next 50 years,” states Evans. “The reality is we live in a world where we are continually having population growth that impacts all of our current energy resources. We see ourselves as one piece in a much greater movement that is helping to advance this technology.”
Learn more about the Glowing Plant team and their research by visiting glowingplant.com.
Scientists at Glowing Plant, a synthetic biology company in San Francisco, say DNA can now be designed on a computer. They source DNA sequences from bioluminescent bacteria in squids and optimize plants to read them.
“Glowing Plant” created for South Florida Opulence magazine, John D. Adams, PhoenixPhotography, www.phoenixphotography.us