Lighting up the future with bioluminescence

After last weeks post on the use of bacteria in high-performance sports wear, it appears that bacteria may have another unusual application in the future; electricity free lighting.

A start-up company in Paris, France are developing bioluminescent lighting systems that can use bacteria to light up street signs and buildings.

Glowee have created a bacteria-powered light that glows for up to three days, and is now developing lights that will glow for a month of more.

The lights are made of transparent cases that contain a gel. The gel is a combination of bioluminescent bacteria and nutrients used to keep the bacteria alive.

The lights require no electricity; this means a reduction in fossil fuel emissions. The lights run at a low temperature, so little energy is wasted as heat. They can be used in areas without access to mains electricity. There are also obvious problems; a 3 day lifespan would obviously require very regular (and expensive) maintenance to keep the lights running.

Glowee, however are working on improvements. They are now genetically modifying the bacteria in an attempt to increase their lifespan. They are hoping to develop a molecular switch that will mean the bacteria only become bioluminescent at night time. They are also hoping to modify the bacteria so that they can survive in a broader range of temperatures.

This novel idea has some possible links with areas of the science curriculum, for example:

  • What is bioluminescence? How does it work? Which animals use bioluminescence and why?
  • In some animals the light is produced by symbiotic organisms such as bacteria. What is a symbiotic organism?
  • Links with respiration (aerobic and anaerobic): What do bacteria need to survive? What waste products do they produce?
  • How would temperature make a difference to the bacteria? Would the lights work effectively in really cold weather? What about really hot weather? Why?
  • Around 19% of electricity consumption in Europe is for lighting. How could this help? What benefit would this have?

If you’re interested in bringing this kind of Cutting Edge Science into the classroom, why not sign up to an RCUK Cutting Edge Science course? The National Science Learning Network, in partnership with Research Councils UK, offer a number of exciting Cutting Edge Science courses designed to help bring Cutting Edge Science into your day to day classroom practice, including courses on related topics such as Genetics, Biodiversity, New Materials and Biomimicry.

All CPD which is part of the Bringing Cutting Edge Science into the Classroom programme qualifies for a bursary of up to £180 per day. Click here for further details: https://www.stem.org.uk/node/36938

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Subject(s)Biology, Science
Age7-11, 11-14, 14-16, 16-19
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