A Kickstarter campaign for The Glowing Plant project has stirred the debate over genetically modified organisms. Scientists are planning to use lab techniques to insert DNA that codes for glowing proteins from fireflies and bacteria into plants, so they glow.
These glowing plants have been made before — the first glowing tobacco plant was created in the 1986 — but this public campaign is causing a ruckus because they are planning to send the seeds out and they could potentially grow in the wild and spread.
To stop that from happening, the team is engineering the plants to need a specific supplement to survive and will conduct studies to ensure there are no legal, ethical or environmental issues before shipping the seeds.
The government isn’t regulating the project or the release of the seeds, according to Nature News:
“Is this legal?” asks the project’s Kickstarter site, with the reply “Yes it is!” Evans says that he and his team contacted the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) at the US Department of Agriculture, which regulates genetically modified (GM) plants if plant pathogens are involved in the work. The agency’s main concern was whether DNA from the pathogen Agrobacterium would be used to insert foreign genes, as GM plant efforts often do. “Regarding synthetic biologics, if they do not pose a plant risk, APHIS does not regulate it,” a spokesperson told Nature.
Instead of using the bacteria, the researchers will use a gene gun to insert the DNA.
Eventually, they want to be able to grow trees that could stand in for streetlights, but they are starting small with the thale cress Arabidopsis thaliana, and a glowing rose.
The Kickstarter campaign ends June 7 so get your order in now. You get glowing seeds with any donation over $40.
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