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Bioluminescent Houseplants Now Available

Biotechnology firm Light Bio in Sun Valley, Idaho, will begin shipping a batch of 50,000 firefly petunias in April.

The firefly petunia glows brightly and doesn’t need special food thanks to a group of genes inserted into the plant from the bioluminescent mushroom Neonothopanus nambi. Unlike fluorescence, which requires special light bulbs, the petunia’s bioluminescence happens without needing any particular type of light or special food.

Bioluminescent 'firefly' petunia
Fast-growing parts of the plant, such as budding flowers and leaves, glow the brightest | Light Bio

“If you treat the plant really well, if it gets enough sunlight and it’s healthy, it will glow brighter,” says Karen Sarkisyan, a synthetic biologist at the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences in London and a co-founder if Light Bio. But he wants to manage people’s expectations: it’s not bright enough to keep you awake at night. It’s a gentle green glow similar to the light of the full Moon.

The plant was approved by the US Department of Agriculture in September. Sarkisyan says that Light Bio chose petunias because they’re used widely as ornamental plants in the United States.

Keith Wood, chief executive and co-founder of Light Bio, has been working on bioluminescent plants - which emit light through chemical reactions inside their cells - since the 1980s.

Consumers in the United States can now pre-order a genetically engineered plant for their home or garden that glows continuously. At a base cost of $29.00, Americans can get a petunia - Petunia hybrida - with flowers that look white during the day; but, in the dark, the plant glows a faint green. Shipments are expected to start in April.


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