Can plant produce light?

Bioluminescent plants: as a source of Light

Farah Kamal, Sonia Zulfiqar, Mahnoor Jamil, Sana Shaheen, Purwa Khan, Hamna Shazadee, Shakra Jamil, Rahil Shahzad.

Nature has created so many organisms that can glow with different colors because of some biochemical reactions taking place in their body. The phenomenon of production and emission of light is called Bioluminescence and the organisms that have the ability to glow because of this phenomenon are called Bioluminescent Organisms. Bioluminescence takes place usually in some fungi, microorganism (e.g. some bioluminescent bacteria), marine vertebrates and invertebrates and terrestrial invertebrates such as fireflies. Some animals require symbiotic relationship with vibrio fishrie bacteria for light emission.

Mechanism for Bioluminescence reaction:

Luciferin (light emitting pigment) and luciferase enzyme are responsible for light emission. Luciferase catalyzes the oxidation of luciferin and converts it into oxyluciferin in its excited form. Light is produced when oxyluciferin goes back to its ground state and emits a photon of light. In some species, other protein such as aequorin assists this phenomenon. Some species require cofactors e.g. calcium and magnesium while some require ATP.


In ancient times, according to historical tale people believed that evil spirits glow in jungles, rivers and seas during night. Aristotle and pliny-the-elder observed and mentioned about something glowing in damp woods. Then Robert boyle mentioned about the glowing worms in damp wood. Earlier, fireflies were used in bottles as a source of electricity to get light in mines in Europe. Later light worms, glowing fungal hyphaeon dead plants were reported. Charles Darwin during his famous sea voyage found some glowing creatures in deep sea in dark nights that were later discovered and explained as dinoflagellates.

Using advanced biotechnological tools and techniques such as Genetic engineering the gene of Luciferase can be used for a number of purposes. Most importantly this gene is being used as reporter gene producing colors in dark. In 1986 it was used for research purpose as transgenic tobacco plant.

Manufacturing of bioluminescent plants:

Using modern molecular and synthetic biotechnological techniques, the gene for luciferase among any light emitting organism could be identified and extracted. Gene of interest can be designed by using different bioinformatics software (to sequence the DNA) and DNA laser printing techniques. Proper gene cassette could be designed and inserted into the desired plant using gene gun. When the gene is successfully inserted into the plant, it will express and start the production of luciferase and bioluminescence. This technique is useful for fast growing plants. The high insertion of gene could increase the glowing ability of plants.

Advantages of bioluminescent plants:

Tube lights emit radiations that are dangerous for environment and health but these bioluminescent plants provide radiation free system, because the light emitting from these plants will be due to the biological reactions produced inside the plant cells and the people will be safe from disease caused by radiations. No heat and radiation are produced due to these bioluminescent plants as streetlights produce heat to environment. This environment friendly technique can easily overcome the problem of Air pollution and Global warming. In this way, we can also support our tourism.

As no electricity is used in this reaction, so cost of electricity will not be an issue any more, and because bioluminescent crops and other plants could luminescence when they need water or other nutrients, this would reduce costs for farmers and agribusiness. This idea is helpful for WAPDA as they can manage to save electricity for other industries.

Bioluminescent plants are far better than the Solar panel as solar panel needs wide area and a device to store the energy being absorbed by the sun as well as the energy converter, while these plants need neither any large area nor much expense. Once the plant genome is modified and bacteria are introduced, the illuminating effect will transfer itself to the whole crop within generations without any Biohazards.

As this technique becomes popular, people will grow more trees and plants so this will be good for environment and human being itself. Fresh oxygen will be available in bulk. It will also be helpful for agriculture industry.


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  • Pauly, Daniel (13 May 2004).Darwin’s Fishes: An Encyclopedia of Ichthyology, Ecology, and Evolution. Cambridge University Press, pp. 15–16.
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  • Thorne, N., Inglese, J. and Auld, D.S., (2010), Illuminating insights into firefly luciferase and other bioluminescent reporters used in chemical biology, chem boil., vol:17(6), pp: 646–657.
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