Class blog for sharing and commenting on current events in biology.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Plants That Glow in The Dark to Replace Light Bulb

In today’s world the growing number of communal laboratories makes it cheaper than it’s ever been to research synthetic biology, and a do-it-yourself attitude is rising among amateur scientists and hobbyists.  A small group of amateur scientists has started their own ambitious project in one of these labs to create plants that glow, and their ultimate goal is to replace streetlamps and perhaps all artificial light with radiantly glowing trees and other plants.  The project is being funded by the website Kickstarter, a website that lets ordinary people fund projects through public donation.  Anybody can donate to the project through Kickstarter, including us.  So far, they've made $412, 613 of their $65,000 goal and have 7,221 donators.  Donators of $40 or more will receive their own glowing plant seeds.  As promising as this research seems, critics are worried about independently funded scientists creating malicious organisms in their garage.  Others are worried about the widespread release of bio-engineered seeds to the public, namely most of the financial contributors.  Some people have even written to Kickstarter demanding they remove the donation page from their website. Others are probably worried about the ethics of “messing with nature.”  Notably, they are not creating genetically engineered organisms, that is, organisms made by splicing the DNA of one organism into another. Instead, they are synthesizing brand new DNA from scratch to insert into the plant DNA.  While the department of Agriculture has laws around GMOs, these glowing plants bypass those guidelines because they are not technically GMOs.
            I found this research to be incredibly amazing, and am even considering contributing my own money to the project, which only takes one click.  It seems to me incredibly unlikely that these plants will replace all artificial light, at least during my lifetime, but it would be really cool to have a glowing plant on my desk instead of a lamp, or next to my bed so I could read in the dark.  These plants would save energy and are therefore good for the environment, and on a personal level could save individuals or families money on their electric bill.  While I think this idea is really cool, it is alarming that there seem to be so little regulations on the scientists.  What if some malicious scientists began experimenting with organisms that released deadly toxins and then released them to the public?  Okay, that seems a little far-fetched and sounds like the plot to a B-Horror film, but what if it was an accident?  That still seems unlikely, but I feel that it is  a little dangerous to let scientists be independently funded while working in these communal labs with no supervision or regulation.

            One critique of the article is they did a very poor job of explaining what Kickstarter was.  I happened to know what it is and have pledged to projects before, but I would have otherwise been a bit confused.  One thing the article did very well was remain unbiased.  The article presents the points of view of both the scientists and critics without siding with either.        


  1. I really liked your summary because even though you did criticize the article for being a little ambiguous on what Kickstarter was, you explained it in your summary in a way that was easy for me to understand. Also, just as you mentioned that the article remained unbiased, I think you did do a good job conveying your personal interest in this topic while politely acknowledging reasons why some people wouldn't. It was interesting to hear a more personal voice in your second paragraph when you gave reasons for why you would consider donating money, and some humor when you mentioned the b-horror film. It seems you were genuinely interested in the topic you were writing on and in turns made your current easier to read, as well make me think about donating myself.
    One thing I felt was a bit lacking was the part where you said they weren't infringing upon any guidelines as they technically weren't making GMOs, but were in fact creating entirely new DNA sequences. I know that animals and plants beforehand had been inserted with genes from jellyfishes to grow, but I didn't know you could create entirely new ones, and even if they had the knowledge, who specifically would the money go to?
    Overall it was very interesting to read, so good job!

  2. I think that you did an amazing job summarizing this article, specifically when you explained what the the glowing plant was. You also explained what Kickstarter was which was quite helpful. I also think that you were able to add a great personal touch to the article when you explained what you would use the plant for. In addition, you were able to explain both sides of the issue very well and non-biasly then add your opinion later.
    Something that you could have done a little better is explained if these plants are illegal or not. It seemed to me like they are not really GMOs however are clearly not natural so what are they? Overall great job

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  4. I thought that this was a great summary Silas. I thought that the way you explained the article was straightforward and simple but also had enough so that you could understand. I also like how you ask questions to the readers that get them engaged in the reading. The voice you created for yourself throughout the summary was interesting to read and follow.

    This summary didn't come up short for me in most places, but I do think that you could've explained Kickstarter a little more because you did mention that you thought it was confusing. I think I get what it is, but I'm still a little confused as to how it works. Who funds these projects random people? But besides that didn't have any critiques.

  5. overall i thought it was a analyzed well. Silas was able to summarize it well and make me interested in reading the passage as well. While summarizing Silas was able to put in scenarios of how he'd be using it, and how it may replace street lights, and even to help the environment. Also he also made his summary interesting by putting his thoughts through it also. I was impressed of how it of of how a plant that does us good could do so much more by providing light. Something that also interested me was the negative side how something that may seem very awesome may have its bad side. Overall this summary was great and was hard to critique, but i would say to try and explain or put input on the part with "messing with nature".