We may one day be reading by the light of a houseplant

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Lisa Winter

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261 We may one day be reading by the light of a houseplant

Tired of filling your house with boring old ficus plants and ferns for a little greenery? You're in luck, because you could soon be able to bring home your own luminescent plant. No, it isn't the result of some kind of nuclear accident. The plants are engineered by the biotechnology company Bioglow and were first announced in 2010 when molecular biologist Alexander Krichevsky et al. published the results in PLOS One. Since that initial report, the team has been working to refine the technique and get the plants growing brighter.

Bioluminescence can be found in a variety of organisms, including certain jellyfish, bacteria, and insects. These creatures use their natural glow for many reasons, including scaring off predators or attracting prey. For modern scientists, bioluminescence is used a standard marker used in biological research, as it gives scientists a very clear confirmation that the genetic modification was successful. Now, plants that are genetically engineered to be bioluminescent will be available to the public as a novelty, though it could have future implications as a truly–ahem–green source of energy.


Glowing plants have been attempted for some time now, but required the use of special dyes or UV lights. Because the properties that made these glow were from an external source, these didn’t really work all that well and were not truly bioluminescent. Bioglow’s plants will be the first commercially available plants that have been altered to be autonomously luminescent (which Krichevsky describes as “autoluminescent”).

The glowing plants have been named Starlight AvatarTM. They are an engineered version of Nicotiana alata plants, which is an ornamental tobacco species. Don’t let that put you off; the plant smells like jasmine, not an old bowling alley. Its moniker comes from the fact that it glows about as bright as starlight. Depending on the individual, the light can be seen as soon as the lights go out, but it may also take a couple minutes for your eyes to adjust. 

The biggest drawback of the plant now is that they have a relatively short lifespan at only 2-3 months because it takes so much out of the plant to create the light. The lab continues to work on increasing the longevity of the plant as well as ramping up the brightness. It is the company’s hope that someday these plants could be used to provide a natural source of light inside the home and even possibly replace garden lights, saving money and energy.

Dying to get your hands on one of the first Starlight AvatarTM plants? Bioglow will be holding an auction for the first twenty plants. It doesn’t cost anything to sign up for the auction, but you do need to register on Bioglow’s website to get on the email list for the auction link. The auction is only open to those in the United States and bidding starts at just $1, plus shipping fees.


Note: The date of the auction hasn’t been released yet, but this article will be updated when Bioglow makes the announcement to those who have confirmed registration.


  • tag
  • bioluminescence,

  • tobacco plant,

  • starlight avatar tm