Video: Trees with firefly extract could replace street lights


Published: 2017-12-15 10:28

Last Updated: 2023-06-06 05:19

Nanobionic light-emitting watercress plants. (Photo: MIT)
Nanobionic light-emitting watercress plants. (Photo: MIT)

Trees may be a new source of light in the future, potentially replacing streetlights.

This comes after scientists optimized watercress to radiate low-level light for hours, exploring alternative and potentially energy-saving methods of lighting.

Embedding the leaves with specialized nanoparticles, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of California brought out the illuminating potential of the small plant.

It is thought that the technology could be transferred to bigger plants and even trees, lighting up larger spaces in an environmentally friendly way.

A light-emitting compound from fireflies, known as luciferin, and coenzyme A was added to silica nanoparticles and suspended in solution before being infused with watercress, which gave off a glow half as bright as a 1-microwatt LED. According to the study the light lasted for up to four hours.

Michael Strano, senior author of the study and chemical engineering professor at MIT, said he believes it is possible to create sustainable light from vegetation. “The vision is to make a plant that will function as a desk lamp - a lamp that you don’t have to plug in. The light is ultimately powered by the energy metabolism of the plant itself,” he said.

“Our target is to perform one treatment when the plant is a seedling or a mature plant, and have it last for the lifetime of the plant. Our work very seriously opens up the doorway to streetlamps that are nothing but treated trees, and to indirect lighting around homes.”

Watch here to see just how MIT engineers were been to turn plants into light: