Biotech Company Light Bio Develops Genetically Engineered Glowing Petunias

A biotech company called Light Bio has gained permission from the US Department of Agriculture to sell genetically engineered glowing petunias in the United States. These petunias produce a neon green glow at night, thanks to the addition of DNA from a bioluminescent mushroom called Neonothopanus nambi. The company plans to start shipping the plants in early 2024.

Bioluminescence is the process by which organisms produce light through a reaction between oxygen and a substance called luciferin, facilitated by an enzyme called luciferase. While bioluminescence is found in around 1,500 species, it is poorly understood in most organisms except bacteria. In 2018, scientists identified the specific enzymes in Neonothopanus nambi that allow it to emit light.

Other attempts at creating glowing plants in the past have involved spraying plants with a chemical found in fireflies or genetically modifying plants with genes from bioluminescent bacteria. However, these methods had limitations, such as the need for specialized treatments or the production of dim light.

The breakthrough by Light Bio involves the discovery of a fungal bioluminescence pathway that can be coordinated with the plant’s own metabolic system. This pathway involves a molecule called caffeic acid, which is abundant in plants, and four different enzymes that convert it into luciferin. The resulting plants glow more brightly than previous attempts and emit light throughout their entire life cycle.

While concerns have been raised about the potential environmental risks of genetically engineered glowing plants, Light Bio has addressed these concerns by stating that the plants will primarily be grown in controlled environments such as homes, businesses, and botanical gardens where artificial lighting already exceeds the light emitted by the plants.

Light Bio plans to initially sell the glowing petunias online in a limited release, with plans to expand to nurseries and gardening centers in the future. The company also aims to develop more types of ornamental plants and make them even brighter.

– The original source article.