Glowing Plant seeds expected to ship in December

Seeds genetically engineered to grow into glow-in-the-dark plants are expected to be mailed to 1,000 people in the U.S. later this year.

Biohackers' genetically engineered glow-in-the-dark plant attracts fans and critics

Glow-in-the-dark plants

8 years ago
Duration 1:06
San Francisco biotech team creates plants that glow, using DNA similar to that of a firefly

Seeds genetically engineered to grow into glow-in-the-dark plants are expected to be mailed to 1,000 people across the U.S. later this year.

San-Francisco startup Glowing Plant will ship the first version of its flagship product starting in December, the company said in an update on its blog today.

The seeds belong to arabidopsis plants, which are related to mustard and cabbage. The company is inserting genes into the plants from other organisms, including fireflies, to give them bioluminescence — the ability to glow via a biochemical process.

"Really, the goal of our plant project is to create a product that symbolizes the advances that we are making and inspires us to think about what else we can create," Antony Evans, co-founder of the company, told CBS News.

In its crowdfunding campaign video on Kickstarter last year, the company floated the idea of using glowing trees to light our streets instead of street lamps.

The company has already generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in pre-orders for its glow-in-the-dark arabidopsis plants. It raised $484,000 in its Kickstarter campaign and generated 5,700 seed orders. A thousand backers are expected to receive the first batch of plants, originally scheduled to ship this past May.

In recent months, the company has been showing off a prototype of its glowing plant made by inserting the gene using tumour-causing bacteria. However, it needs to insert the gene via a different method in order to legally ship the plant outside California, something it says it is in the process of doing.

Glowing Plant is an advocate of biohacking — the practice of do-it-yourself biology experimentation outside formal research labs.

The project has been controversial, drawing criticism from organizations such as the Ottawa-based biotechnology watchdog ETC Group. Pat Mooney, executive director of the group, told CBC's The Current in an August 2013 interview that he is concerned the genetically engineered glowing plants that will be shipped all over the U.S. could breed with other plants, allowing the genes to escape.

A few weeks ago on Spark, we heard how scientists at the University of Ottawa were working to create designer organs (the kind in our bodies!) that could communicate via Twitter. This kind of bio-tinkering seems an awful lot like what's going on in the DIY-bio movement. Yes, Do-it-yourself bio-hackers do exist, and they say if you're an actual scientist, you can't be in the club! Spark contributor Sonya Buyting tells us more.


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