Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Living Streetlights?

Imagine this: the sun is setting and it’s about time for the streetlights to light up, one by one, bright bulbs casting yellow circles of light on the dark sidewalk below. However, as evening settles in, it is not the dirty electric bulbs that illuminate the street; instead, a ghostly blue light fills in the dark crevices, giving the street a magical aura. In certain places, the captivating cave-like glow is replaced by a soft golden light that radiates from above. The previously dull street is transformed into something out of a dream.
Recently, students at Cambridge University have discovered a way to insert the bioluminescent genetics found in fireflies into other organisms. The first organism that went through this procedure was a tobacco plant. Not only did the students successfully make the plant glow, but also modified the bioluminescent genetics so that the produced light was bright enough to read by. An idea has been proposed to do the same with trees in order to replace streetlights, and although the research required to do so would be fairly expensive, the result could potentially reduce the amount of money spent on electricity as well as the human impact on the environment.
Taiwanese researchers have come up with a similar idea. Their “living streetlights” are made using gold nanoparticles. The nanoparticles are inserted in the leaves of the tree, causing the tree to give off a bright reddish glow which could be used in place of streetlights to light the sidewalks at night. Not only do the nanoparticles provide light without electricity, but they also cause the trees to photosynthesize while they are lit which removes CO2 from the air. The expenses for this project however are extremely high, as gold nanoparticles are made from real gold which is very expensive. High prices set aside, these living lights are a potential replacement for common streetlights that are used today.
Street lamps with a difference (Image: Theo Sanderson)
Bioluminescent trees illuminate the street

A bioluminescent christmas tree
photo: http://www.isbc.unibo.it/Files/IM_013.htm

a genetically engineered bioluminescent tobacco plant
photo: http://www.sciencebuzz.org/museum/object/2008_07_plants/dead
Gold nanoparticles
photo: http://bldgblog.blogspot.com/2010/11/gold-is-metal.html courtesy of Georgia tech


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