This is so sci-fi it’s positively scary! The home brewing school of science has turned to crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to fund the creation of genetically engineered glow-in-the-dark trees, reports Andrew Pollack for the New York Times:
Hoping to give new meaning to the term “natural light,” a small group of biotechnology hobbyists and entrepreneurs has started a project to develop plants that glow, potentially leading the way for trees that can replace electric streetlamps and potted flowers luminous enough to read by.
The project, which will use a sophisticated form of genetic engineering called synthetic biology, is attracting attention not only for its audacious goal, but for how it is being carried out.
Rather than being the work of a corporation or an academic laboratory, it will be done by a small group of hobbyist scientists in one of the growing number of communal laboratories springing up around the nation as biotechnology becomes cheap enough to give rise to a do-it-yourself movement.
The project is also being financed in a D.I.Y. sort of way: It has attracted more than $250,000 in pledges from about 4,500 donors in about two weeks on the Web site Kickstarter.
The effort is not the first of its kind. A university group created a glowing tobacco plant a few years ago by implanting genes from a marine bacterium that emits light. But the light was so dim that it could be perceived only if one observed the plant for at least five minutes in a dark room.
The new project’s goals, at least initially, are similarly modest. “We hope to have a plant which you can visibly see in the dark (like glow-in-the-dark paint), but don’t expect to replace your light bulbs with version 1.0,” the project’s Kickstarter page says.
But part of the goal is more controversial: to publicize do-it-yourself synthetic biology and to “inspire others to create new living things.” As promising as that might seem to some, critics are alarmed at the idea of tinkerers creating living things in their garages. They fear that malicious organisms may be created, either intentionally or by accident.
Two environmental organizations, Friends of the Earth and the ETC Group, have written to Kickstarter and to the Agriculture Department, which regulates genetically modified crops, in an effort to shut down the glowing plant effort…
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