Bacterial Lightbulbs

This week in When Science Fiction Becomes Reality I want to show you something very cool: light-bulbs made of bio-luminescent bacteria.

What is it?

Basically the idea is to have a light ‘bulb’ composed entirely of glowing bacteria. This system would provide light without using any electricity.

The Science:

The science behind this concept is relatively simple. The gene for a glowing protein is inserted into a bacteria (e.g. E. coli) and these form part of an ecosystem contained within the ‘bulb’. This is a self-contained system which recycles its own waste while emitting the glow.

The Future:

With this kind of technology it would be possible to completely replace electrical lights with bacterial ones. These bacteria driven lights wouldn’t require any electricity, making them almost completely waste free. At the moment the production is limited and the glow wouldn’t replace a standard electrical bulb but it’s early days.

It’s even possible to insert these glowing genes into plants and animals. Imagine if streets and parks, and even your home, was lit by the glow of fluorescent plants? While your glow-in-the-dark cat walks down your driveway.

In-fact, imagine a whole world which is lit by the cold glow of luminescent proteins (don’t generate heat). “Have you fed the lights yet dear?” As you go along sprinkling nutrient broth onto the glowing bacteria.

Personally I’m excited by this field of synthetic biology, the benefits to the environment in terms of power-saving are tremendous but mostly I’m excited about the truly ‘alien’ nature of this technology. In my head I can see a spaceship lit by the glow of bacterial swarms… [Goes back to writing science fiction novel].

What do  you think of these breakthroughs? If you could pick one thing to glow in the dark what would it be (living or inanimate)?

Don’t forget to check out other cases of When Science Fiction Becomes Reality.

You can read more about this project (and see some great pictures) here.

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