Bio-luminescent Trees: WTF?

Bad idea of the week?  The Inhabitat story “Gold Nanoparticles Could Transform Trees Into Street Lights” mentions new research:  “A group of scientists in Taiwan recently discovered that placing gold nanoparticles within the leaves of trees, causes them to give off a luminous reddish glow. The idea of using trees to replace street lights is an ingenious one – not only would it save on electricity costs and cut CO2 emissions, but it could also greatly reduce light pollution in major cities.”

:: image via Inhabitat

Is there something inherently wrong with this, or is it just me?  Another case of techno-madness seeking to solve a problem by asking a wildly misguided question?  I see future cross-pollination of ‘modified’ species, mixing with other hardy invaders to provide glowing urbanscapes – a perpetual daytime that messes with the diurnal cycles of humans and other species, until we, madly, run from cities into the wilderness – but find our way lit like a runway with the dull glowing of plantings from city, to suburb, to wilderness… 

8 thoughts on “Bio-luminescent Trees: WTF?

  1. They did not suggest anything being transgenic in the article. Gold nanoparticles would be a physical addition not a genetic one. None the less I imagine it would be very expensive and would have to be redone every year. Who knows what happens to decomposing leaves filled with nanoparticles. Luckily gold is rather inert so it would be safer than other kinds of nanoparticles.

  2. I don’t think you can genetically engineer something to contain gold nanoparticles, so the fear of such trees cross pollinating is probably unfounded. This would be a mechanical creation and not a genetic one. It is probably a novel but impractical solution to street or ambient lighting. Gold nanoparticles are expensive by nature of being made of gold, and injecting them into leaves is probably labor intensive and expensive as well. Additionally, leaves, even on evergreen trees, are not eternal; they wither and fall off eventually, which would require trees to be re-treated with gold periodically (or even seasonally on deciduous species) to continue to glow. This is a mere novelty and has numerous financial and practical barriers to ever being implemented seriously.

  3. This reminds me of an article called “OLD DARK” by John Stilgoe, I read in the book Ecological Urbanism where he stresses the importance of darkness (something urban dwellers are scared of) necessary for ordering natural systems. Having too much illumination, disturbs diurnal- nocturnal rhythm and is something to be cautious of when we aim for eco- sensitive cities. This experiment can sure confuse and dis harmonize plant/animal kingdom, as rightly pointed by you. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks for the comments – my thoughts of roving bands of glowing plants was somewhat in jest, but the criticism is still valid – so it’s not transgenic – it’s still (1) gold, which is a rare mineral found through mining, and (2) as folks mention, it’s not really at realistic or mass-applicable solution. I think the sci-fi quality of this are cool – but for anyone to refer to it as ‘ingenious’ is pretty off base.

    I do remember some version of this from before (again there are no new ideas)… here, here leading maybe to here (which would make me feel better about my cats being outside at night 🙂

    Love the triffids though – I thought for a second it was from an episode of star trek episode… right those are tribbles!

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