Kickstarter page: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/antonyevans/glowing-plants-natural-lighting-with-no-electricit?ref=search
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.