The Glowing Plant project, which ends its fund-raising campaign on 7 June, seeks to engineer the thale cress Arabidopsis thaliana to emit weak, green-blue light by endowing it with genetic circuitry from fireflies. If the non-commercial project succeeds, thousands of supporters will receive seeds to plant the hardy weed wherever they wish. The US government has no problem with this prospect, yet some experts and industry watchers are jittery. They fear that distributing the plants could set a precedent for unsupervised releases of synthetic organisms, and might foster a negative public perception of synthetic biology — an emerging experimental discipline that involves genetically engineering organisms to do useful tasks.
*Glowing plants spark debate*
"Among the many projects attracting crowd-sourced funding on the Kickstarter website this week are a premium Kobe beef jerky, a keyboard instrument called a wheelharp and a small leafy plant that will be made to glow in the dark using synthetic-biology techniques.
The project, based in the San Francisco Bay Area in California, was conceived as a public demonstration of synthetic biology using gene-writing software and lab-made DNA molecules. The effort also reflects a ‘DIY biology’ movement that seeks to make biotechnology more accessible to the public. “The central goal of the project is to inspire people and educate people about this technology,” says entrepreneur and project co-founder Antony Evans. He and his colleagues — Omri Amirav-Drory, founder of synthetic-biology software firm Genome Compiler in Berkeley, California, and Kyle Taylor, a former biology graduate student at Stanford University in California — set out to make Arabidopsis glow because the feat seemed achievable in a simple garage lab. “There are some people in synthetic-biology circles who would yawn at what we’re doing,” Evans says. Making plants glow has been possible since the 1980s, when scientists added a gene encoding the firefly enzyme luciferase to a tobacco plant. When sprayed with the chemical substrate luciferin, the plant glowed temporarily (D. W. Ow et al. Science 234, 856–859; 1986). In 2010, another group engineered a tobacco plant to have its own weak glow, using bacterial genes instead (A. Krichevsky et al. PLoS ONE 5, e15461; 2010). Also in 2010, a team at the University of Cambridge, UK, created a genetic circuit in bacteria that makes both firefly luciferase and luciferin, so that the bacteria glow continuously (go.nature.com/4nxcao). The Glowing Plant team plans to tweak the genes in that circuit so that they work in plants....."