IMAGINE taking a midnight stroll, your route lit by row upon row of trees glowing a ghostly blue. If work by a team of undergraduates at the University of Cambridge pans out, bioluminescent trees could one day be giving our streets this dreamlike look. The students have taken the first step on this road by developing genetic tools that allow bioluminescence traits to be easily transferred into an organism.
Nature is full of glow-in-the-dark critters, but their shine is feeble - far too weak to read by, for example. To boost this light, the team, who were participating in the annual International Genetically Engineered Machines competition (iGEM), modified genetic material from fireflies and the luminescent marine bacterium Vibrio fischeri to boost the production and activity of light-yielding enzymes. They then made further modifications to create genetic components or "BioBricks" that can be inserted into a genome.
The team managed to produce a range of colours by putting these genes into the Escherichia coli bacterium. They found that a volume of bacterial culture about the size of a regular wine bottle gave off enough light to read by.
"We didn't end up making bioluminescent trees, which was the inspiration for the project," says team member Theo Sanderson, who is studying genetics. "But we decided to make a set of parts that would allow future researchers to use bioluminescence more effectively." The team presented its findings earlier this month at the iGEM Jamboree, held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
One major obstacle to harnessing bioluminescence is that the process relies on a class of compounds called luciferins. They emit light and are then converted into oxyluciferin, which cannot produce light. To counter this, the Cambridge team found a way to engineer BioBricks that would enable organisms to produce enzymes to recycle oxyluciferin.
Bioluminescent plants could appeal especially to people whose homes are not wired up to the electricity grid. These living lights have no breakable parts, and new lights can be made simply by growing more of them. The team calculates that for a bioluminescent tree to compete with a street light, only 0.02 per cent of the energy absorbed for photosynthesis would need to be diverted into light production. ...
via Glowing trees could light up city streets - environment - 25 November 2010 - New Scientist.
I hope we will see a large number of non-violent transformations like this as steps to becoming energy independent. Related:
Sweden has moved to the forefront of the world’s “green” nations by setting an ambitious goal to achieve a completely oil-free economy by 2020—and without building more nuclear power plants.
Motivated by global warming and rising oil prices, the Swedish government says it intends to replace all fossil fuels with renewable alternatives before climate change undermines national economies worldwide and diminishing oil supplies force astronomical price increases.
"Our dependency on oil should be broken by 2020," said Mona Sahlin, minister of sustainable development, in an interview with The Guardian newspaper. "There shall always be better alternatives to oil, which means no house should need oil for heating, and no driver should need to turn solely to gasoline."
Even Skeptics Cheer Sweden’s Goal to End Oil Dependency
Not everyone believes Sweden’s goal to free itself from oil by 2020 is achievable, but even critics applaud the country for setting such a compelling and motivating goal, which could also inspire other nations to make dramatic efforts to reduce their dependency on fossil fuels.