What do bunnies, football fields, and streetlights have in common? Well, nothing much, yet. However, new technology could soon revolutionize how we light our lives. Already, an art installation involving luminescing rabbits has been accomplished with genetic engineering. That’s right—glowing bunnies.
Bioluminescence is the biochemical emission of light by living organisms. This enlightening phenomenon is seen in many different animals, from bacteria to fish and even glowing mushrooms. Similar to when you snap a glow stick, bioluminescence produces a cold form of light. No heat is given off, unlike the heat that incandescent light bulbs produce. Bioluminescence uses chemical reactions to give off and harness light for almost anything. It is produced in a range of colors, mainly blue and green, but even red, yellow or orange. From mating signals on animals to evading predators with clouds of light, bioluminescence can do it all. There is even a six-foot worm in Australia that leaves trails of glowing slime bright enough to read by. And now, bioluminescence might be able to save us from the increased CO2 production that is the main cause of climate change.
A French scientist by the name of Pierre Calleja has pioneered an idea using bioluminescent algae to create commercial light sources. What looks like a huge tub of lava lamps gone bad could be lighting our streets, saving much of the electricity we use today and absorbing a ton of CO2, possibly one literal ton per year, or what an average tree absorbs in its lifetime. This isn’t perfect, however. It would require regular maintenance and lots of water. Still, this is an exciting idea. Even if our streetlights end up resembling radioactive glowing goo, are streetlights now really that attractive?
Currently, there are more than 50 known species of fungi that bioluminesce. Certain species of mushrooms bioluminesce a green color. A smaller species of fungus is known to give off a light blue light. Exactly why these mushrooms glow is a puzzle that scientists are currently working on solving. These fungi might glow to deter anything from eating them or it might attract animals at night to aid in the dispersal of spores.
While genetically engineering animals to luminesce is almost always a bad idea (the experiments are lethal to the animals), having luminescent plants could be handy in unexpected ways. Along with the algae that do this all on their own, it is possible to alter other plants to glow. Just think: glowing grass for football games could help improve lighting conditions at night game. This could also be useful in golf courses. Instead of plugging in night lights, just imagine having a glowing plant in your room to make sure you don’t trip over your backpack when stumbling to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Or, if you really want a giant pet worm, you could read by the light of its slime. Doesn’t that sound cozy? Warning: not recommended if you ever hope to have a relationship.
If you have a topic of interest, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask us a science question, or stop by a Tri Beta meeting, in Porter every other Wednesday at 5pm. The next one is on March 6.