Glowing Mushroom

From torches to halogen street lamps, we have been finding ways to illuminate the night for millennia. Now, with the help of a mushroom, perhaps someday the trees themselves may light our way. Using four genes that make a fungus glow-in-the-dark, a team of international scientists has engineered tobacco plants that emit green light, sparking whimsical imaginings for our future.

The research harnesses the ability for the mushroom Neonothopanus nambi to light up the night in its native Brazillian forests. Using a type of molecular machine called a luciferase enzyme, the fungus emits light as a byproduct of its metabolism. Luciferases are found in a number of different bioluminescent organisms (creatures that produce light), such as fireflies, plankton, and jellyfish. By engineering the glow-in-the-dark mushroom genes into a plant, scientists can create bioluminescent plants. Notably, this is not the first time scientists have made glow-in-the-dark plants. Previous approaches used luciferases from bacteria, but the molecular products were toxic to the plants. The fungal luciferase, on the other hand, acts in the caffeic acid cycle, a chemical cycle already found in all plants, and does not appear to harm the plant.

Besides potentially fulfilling the science fiction fantasies of glowing trees, like those shown in Avatar (2009), bioluminescent plant technology has the potential to advance our understanding of plant development and disease. Actively growing parts of the plant glow brighter than the baseline bioluminescence, whereas sites of injury resulted in decreased light emission. Furthermore, this new technology will allow researchers to measure plant metabolism in response to varying environmental stresses. Researchers also hope to bring bioluminescent house plants to the market (after thorough safety screening) to reduce electricity usage. And who knows, maybe someday soon, our streets will be illuminated by this green technology.

Managing Correspondent: Olivia Foster Rhoades

Press Articles: Scientists create glowing pants using mushroom genes” “Scientists create glow-in-the-dark plants

Original Scientific Article: Plants with genetically encoded autoluminescence 

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

8 thoughts on “Living Nightlights: Advances in creating glow-in-the-dark plants.

  1. Hello,
    For my Science Fair project, I am creating bioluminescent moss and found this site how can I create this in school?

  2. We are group of researchers who are working on nanobionics are really excited to read such articles and need to explore more with your ideas

  3. I have a question… maybe you can help me.
    I saw a tree that it’s leaves lit up like white Christmas tree lights at the pitch of dark. It glowed at night for 3 nights. What was it .?Haven’t seen it do it again. The lights where as big as the old indoor Christmas lights. It glowed all night long.
    This happened in Sheridan Texas.
    Not sure what kind of tree it is.

    1. For Randy: I just read this: search for “Foxfire”.

      I am sorry I lost the source. I am using my phone, but recalled your question.

      The phenomenon of trees eerily glowing in the dark like in fairytales is called foxfire. This glow is attributed to species of mushrooms that glow in the dark growing on decaying wood on trees. The fungi grow on decaying wood and create a glow that radiates through the forest, giving it the name foxfire.

      There are over 70 types of mushrooms that can glow in the dark. Fungi use the combination of oxygen and luciferin to lure insects into helping them spread their spores. Mushrooms glowing in a dark forest aren’t as uncommon as you think. They even have their own nicknames.

      Bitter Oysters, for example, are one of the brightest mushrooms that glow. The mushroom’s real name is panellus stipticus. It grows and glows mainly in parts of North America and glows during spore maturation. Little Ping-Pong Pats look like a bunch of bats hanging off a tree limb or ping-pong paddles since they’re small and white.

      The honey mushroom or the armillaria mellea has a hue of orange in them. They are the most common bioluminescent mushroom and are likely the ones that cause foxfire in most cases. There are four species of honey mushrooms. They are so simple during the daytime but come alive at night.

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