Glowing Plants: Off-Grid Lighting Of The Future?

Before the world was wired, the day began and ended with the sun. Work had to be done efficiently so that not a moment of precious daylight was wasted. Now, with easy access to electricity, we light up the night so that life goes on, even in the dark. But all of that artificial light is costly and producing the electricity from fossil fuels is bad for the planet.

Off-grid lighting solutions, like solar and wind-powered luminaries, have been suggested, but what if we took the concept one step further to eliminate the lights altogether? Tech entrepreneur Antony Evans, synthetic biologist Omri Amirav-Drory and plant expert Kyle Taylor are the creative minds behind the Glowing Plant project. Using better DNA sequencing and printing, they have improved upon the naturally bio-luminescent plant. Some say this breakthrough could one day allow us to light out homes and streets with glowing plants instead of light bulbs.

glowing plant project

Image via Glowing Plant Project

The idea might seem the stuff of science fiction, but with over 4,000 backers raising over $230,000 on Kickstarter to support the project, there are apparently plenty of people who want to see it become reality.

“To create the glowing plants, the team will first generate modified genes with the Genome Compiler software, then insert them into Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant related to mustard and cabbage (they make sure to point out that the plant is not edible). The main gene, luciferase, is the same one that makes fireflies light up the night,” according to Singularity Hub.

The best part of the project is that it’s being conducted under the principles of “radical openness” which is like open source on steroids. “All of the output from this project will be released open source – the DNA constructs, the plants etc. If you get seeds from your plants they are your seeds to grow more plants or give to your friends as you wish,” write the founders. “DNA designs are already publicly available and if you download Genome Compiler’s software you can view them.”

Of course, any time you’re dealing with genetic modification, there are risks. Will glowing plants have a negative effect on regular flora nearby? What happens if you kill a glowing plant…can you compost it safely? Glowing Plant project has anticipated and prepared for some of these challenges, while others still loom. For now, the ultimate goal is education and awareness.

“More than lighting streets it’s about educating and inspiring the public – it’s not as dangerous as people think. We want to put a beautiful plant in their hands and show them it’s useful and safe,” Evans told Singularity.

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog


  • Reply May 6, 2013

    Matthew Kupka

    Can’t wait! Managed to get early bird status on day 1/2. Hoping they reach the $400,000 stretch goal where the 120/150 dollar backers will receive a glowing rose plant.

  • Reply May 9, 2013


    This is ridiculous. Energy still has to come from *somewhere*. A plant generating that much light, while doing all the other stuff a regular plant does to survive, is going to require a lot more nutrients, water, etc.

    And even an entire tree lit up like a firefly isn’t going to produce the light of a single street lamp. But at least it will be hideous, right?

    • Reply May 11, 2013


      I’d like to think they’d make it look beautiful. Maybe it’d be multi-colored.

  • The “glow in the dark” effect is the result a reprocessing effect of solar and/or chemical energy, that is like some mushrooms or deep sea fish. Even a few terrestrial critters possess the ability like “fireflies” and a few worms. Would it not be wonderful if our streets and walkways could be illuminated in such a way? I can’t see much danger related to such a system unless someone ingests such a plant. We have electricity all around us with few casualties except for accidents.
    Modification of DNA must be carefully done with the utmost mindfulness or indefensible problems can occur.

  • Reply May 10, 2013

    ReBecca Geiger

    1) i think this is an AWESOME idea
    2) can’t they make a solar powered street lamp (wouldn’t that be faster/cheaper/easier)
    3) i really want a glow in the dark plant
    4) it would probably never get achieved in my lifetime (most plants take a pretty long time to grow that large don’t they?) unless they are going to be using bamboo
    5) when can i order a glow in the dark tree?

  • Reply May 11, 2013

    Wang D. Yue

    i am always hesitant when it comes to DNA modification, i hope the development stays well guarded until sure it is safe. With that i’ll expect that it will take large years to accomplish.

  • Reply May 11, 2013


    This sounds awesome. I hope these glowing plants start replacing electricity generated lighting in my lifetime.

  • Reply May 13, 2013

    Frank W. Abernathy


  • Reply May 13, 2013


    What if the bee’s spread the pollen and the the acorns start growing and the squirrels eat the acorns and they start glowing then we’re all glowing. What if the catepillars eat the leaves and the birds eat the catepillars and the hawk eats the bird, and the lion eats the hawk, but what if the dinosaur eats everything and then we’re eating hippos that are glowing!!! NOOOO WHAT ARE WE DOING WITH THE EARTH STOP IT NOW STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT AHHHHHHHHH I CAN’T HANDLE THIS ANYMORE. NO GLOWING STUFF NO GLOWING STUFF!!! WE WILL RISE UP AND KILL YOU ALL.

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