Genetically modified plants don’t exactly have the best public image, however one startup is trying to change all that. Rather than produce food however, they are looking to produce something even more basic: light. The self-descriptively named ‘Glowing Plant’ based out of California is aiming to use bioengineering to create plants which will softly glow at night using similar kinds of bioluminescence to what is used by fireflies and deep sea creatures.
Last year the company burst onto the scene with a high-profile Kickstarter campaign which managed to generate significant attention, and easily exceed its funding target. Despite having already raised almost half a million dollars from crowdfunding alone, Glowing Plant is about to become significantly richer again. Well known startup incubator Y-Combinator, better known for its software investments, is getting into the biotech game through the investment of an unreported sum of money into Glowing Plant.
Y-Combinator reportedly believes that the rapidly declining price of genomic sequencing will open up a whole new range of biotech possibilities into the future. For a company like Glowing Plant, this means that they can quickly - but more importantly cheaply - understand and then rearrange plant genes in order to create novel new organisms.
The rapidly declining price of genomic sequencing will open up a whole new range of possibilities.
Primarily, Glowing Plant is looking to create glow-in-the-dark plants, based on firefly genes which could provide city lighting. This, they believe, is a green, low emissions alternative to traditional street lighting which would be able to be deployed even in areas not connected to a power grid. In addition to this, Glowing Plant also is investigating the use of genetic engineering to create other kinds of new organisms for the household. These include plants which actively repel insects, or work as air fresheners.
Of course, these projects still face many technological and regulatory hurdles, but they nonetheless represent some of the potential of the democratisation of bioengineering, away from big corporations and governments, towards smaller projects and even individuals. How transformative this technology can be however, is more depended upon how the public and governments react to its initial appearance. For this reason, well-intentioned startups like Glowing Plant are beneficial, as they put a friendly face on this emerging technology.
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