About the Project and How They Claim to Achieve it:
In the words of the Glowing Plant Project team, " The project seeks to engineer the thale cress Arabidopsis thaliana to emit weak, green-blue light by endowing it with genetic circuitry from fireflies. If the non-commercial project succeeds, thousands of supporters will receive seeds to plant the hardy weed wherever they wish." The target sequence of both the luciferase and luciferin were designed in a genome compiling software, which can be printed and inserted in the Arabidopsis thaliana geonome by gene gun.
The group aimed at using this simple and novel ambition as a motivational factor for generating awareness among the common public about synthetic biology and hence decided to launch it on a large scale, wherein the common masses would be delivered the GM Arabidopsis thaliana plantlets that would glow!
In order to achieve this goal, a fund raising campaign was launched that aimed at generating $65,000, so that bulk amounts of designed sequence could be printed for insertion in the plantlets. The fundraiser was held between April 23, 2013-June 7, 2013 and astonishingly collected $484,013 (well above the goal of $65,000!!). Following is an overview of the vision of the team (open source), followed by that there's an interactive video of an interview of the Founder and the Co-Founder of this project, that sheds laboratory details of the project, as described above:
History of similar attempts:
Followed by that, in 1989, Luciferin-Luciferase gene system was sequenced, so now scientists could insert the whole system gene into an organism. Luminous Zebra Fish with such a system became popular in the past. So, was the completely self luminous bacteria engineered by the iGEM team of the University of Cambridge. But, taking it to plants on a self-sustained way, and that too at large scale, was something not thought of in the past!
The Resistance to the Project and The Cause of it:
Though on a lighter note, but scientists have put forward the thought that such a GM plant/organism isn't a good tool to light the awareness of the people about the advantages of synthetic biology. Infact, this project would hardly make any good use of synthetic biology for the public at large, a use in treating a disease or food problem, would have served the society better. They regard it as a "publicity garnering'' naive approach to synthetic biology!
Then, there are analysts and scientists working on transgenic organisms who fear a problematic future created by the widespread and open use of such an unusually modified plant. There always exists the uncontrolled flow of genetic information in the wild (especially considering the weed nature of Arabidopsis spp.! And using the plants as streetlamps appear a highly immature idea!
Apart from that, there are plant biologists who doubt the feasibility of the claim of using the glowing plant(s) as streetlamps/sustainable light source, considering the limitations on a plant’s ability to harvest energy from the Sun and convert it back into light. It would be an unusual venting of harvested sunlight back into light energy, which not only seems unfeasible on continuous basis, but also it may pose some abnormalities in normal growth of plant.
The Challenges it Might Face in Execution
There are two key challenges that might face this project:
(i) The first and the foremost is "meeting the expectations of the hype already created". It is very less probable that the plants will sustainably emit light, and that too at levels that might make them useful for night lighting! It needs some hyper expression of the system, which is not possible as per the strategy proposed, at this stage.
(ii) Then there exists the fear of the complete wipe-out of this project by the regulatory affairs, as the team aims at launching it at public scale! And, considering the widespread awareness of this action, those who are against such a move, have already filed complaints against the project's scale.
The project does seem very novel and very exciting considering the scale targeted. With the huge amounts of funds already raised in a very short period of time, the expectations have been peaking over the results of the same. At the same time, there are speculations over the harmful effects of wide-spread use of such a transgenic plant, which might lead to a turnaround of it's prospects. At current stage, it is progressing at a very fast pace, which does bring that very curious question in mind:
All I can say is, "Let's see!"
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