This GMO petunia glows in the dark and can be yours for $29

This GMO petunia glows in the dark and can be yours for $29

This GMO petunia glows in the dark and can be yours for $29

Engineered 'Petunia Firefly' emits a continuous green glow thanks to genes from a luminous fungus

Fast-growing plant parts, such as emerging flowers and leaves, glow more brightly.

US consumers can now pre-order a genetically modified plant for their home or garden that glows continuously. For a base cost of $29.00, residents of the 48 contiguous states can obtain Petunia (Hybrid petunia) with flowers that appear white during the day; But in the dark, the plant glows pale green. Biotechnology company Light Bio in Sun Valley, Idaho, will begin shipping a batch of 50,000 firefly petunias in April.

The researchers were contacted by nature He seems fascinated by them. This is a “groundbreaking event” — making a plant that can bioluminescent enough to be seen with the naked eye and selling it to plant lovers, says Diego Orzaiz, a plant biologist at the Institute of Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology in Valencia. Spain. “Being European, I am envious that consumers in the United States can get their hands on these plants.”


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Grow and glow

Keith Wood, CEO and co-founder of Light Bio, has been working on bioluminescent plants — which emit light through chemical reactions within their cells — since the 1980s. In 1986, he and his colleagues announced the creation of the first plant of its kind, a type of tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) where they introduced the luciferase gene from fireflies (Fotinos Perales). At the time, the goal was to learn the basics of gene expression, and the tool is still used by plant biologists today. Researchers can engineer plants so that when a particular gene is activated, the luciferase gene is also activated, and the plant lights up.

Because this was a “cool thing,” Wood says, the startups then tried to manufacture plants for decorative purposes. But the plants only glowed dimly and needed special food to fuel their light-emitting chemical reaction.

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The firefly petunia glows a continuous pale green in the dark. Credit: BioLight

Firefly petunia flowers glow brightly and don't need special food thanks to a combination of genes from bioluminescent mushrooms Neothopanus nambe. The fungus fuels its light-emitting reaction with a caffeic acid molecule, which terrestrial plants also make. By inserting fungal genes into petunia, the researchers enabled the plant to produce enzymes that can convert caffeic acid into the light-emitting molecule luciferin, then recycle it back into caffeic acid, enabling sustained bioluminescence. Wood co-founded Light Bio with two of the researchers behind the work, Karen Sarkisyan, a synthetic biologist at the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences in London, and Ilya Yampolsky, a molecular biochemist at Pirogov Russian National Research Medical University in Moscow.

Unlike fluorescence, which requires special light bulbs, petunia bioluminescence occurs without the need for any particular type of light or special food. This is what sets the plant apart from other glowing creatures on the market, namely GloFish. These aquarium pets, available in many species and colors—including electric green tetras—fluoresce under ultraviolet light.

“If you treat the plant well, if it gets enough sunlight and is healthy, it will glow more brightly,” Sarkisian says. But it wants to manage people's expectations: it's not bright enough to keep you up at night. It is a gentle green glow similar to the light of a full moon.

Genetic engineering in a different light

The plant was approved by the USDA in September. Sarkisian says Light Bio chose petunias because they are widely used as ornamental plants in the United States. They also chose it to reduce risks. This type of petunia is not native to North America, and is not considered an invasive species. So the chances of the modified gene spreading into native plants and disrupting ecosystems should be minimal.

Scientists who contacted them nature I didn't see any safety risks. “I can't imagine any reason why this would be alarming,” Orzaiz says.

“People's reactions to genetically modified plants are complex,” says Steven Burgess, a plant biologist at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Many concerns revolve around who owns the technology and who benefits from it. He says glowing houseplants are different from plants used in the agricultural industry, where one company owns the seeds.

Burgess compares Glow Petunias to another Timely product. purple tomatoes (Solanum tomato), whose seeds went on sale earlier this month in the United States, is the first genetically modified food product marketed directly to gardeners. Researchers introduced genes from the snapdragon plant (Antirheinus major) in tomatoes for their color and high levels of anthocyanins, which are antioxidants.

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Purple tomatoes get their color by expressing genes from the snapdragon plant. Credit: Norfolk Health Products

When asked if Light Bio was concerned about plant lovers sharing petunia seedlings with friends, Sarkeesian said that although the company holds patents for the technology, it does not plan to crack down on the behavior. “The most positive way to deal with this problem is to come up with new and better products,” he says. This year, the company announced that it had successfully increased the brightness of bioluminescent light in its plants by incorporating genes from other mushroom species and using directed evolution to make it work better in plants.

Orzaiz is excited about the research potential of the technology used to grow petunias. He is currently working on developing plants that use the mushroom luciferase system to communicate when they are stressed or infected with a virus. He envisions that future farmers might get early warning about problems with their crops through satellites or drones flying at night.

“Genetic engineering can be used for the benefit of humanity,” Orzaiz says, admitting that many people are afraid of it. “Having positive examples of genetic engineering, something people can touch and bring home” — such as the firefly petunia plant — can help people see such modifications in a different light, he says.

This article has been reproduced with permission First published On February 9, 2024.

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