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Glow way! Bioluminescent houseplant hits US market for first time

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2024-02-10 00:00:07

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Consumers in the United States can now pre-order a genetically engineered plant for their home or garden that glows continuously. At a base cost of US$29.00, residents of the 48 contiguous states can get a petunia (Petunia hybrida) with flowers that look white during the day; but, in the dark, the plant glows a faint green. Biotechnology firm Light Bio in Sun Valley, Idaho, will begin shipping a batch of 50,000 firefly petunias in April.

Researchers contacted by Nature seem enamoured by them. This is a “groundbreaking event” — to have made a plant that can bioluminesce brightly enough to be seen with the naked eye and sold to plant lovers, says Diego Orzáez, a plant biologist at the Institute of Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology in Valencia, Spain. “Being a European, I have envy that consumers in the United States can have their hands on these plants.”

Keith Wood, chief executive and co-founder of Light Bio, has been working on bioluminescent plants — which emit light through chemical reactions inside their cells — since the 1980s. In 1986, he and his colleagues reported1 making the first such plant, a type of tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) into which they inserted the luciferase gene from fireflies (Photinus pyralis). At the time, the goal was to learn about 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 of interest is activated, the luciferase gene is too, and the plant will light up.

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