Bioluminescence and technology

Bioluminescence: Technology’s Bright Future


If you’ll pardon the pun, the future of bioluminescent technology is rather bright. Science is attempting to harness this wonder of nature to benefit our future generations in hopes of designing and creating technology that is able to emit light organically to reduce electrical usage, amongst numerous other possibilities.

What is Bioluminescence?

Bioluminescence is a natural phenomenon through which light is produced by living organisms. This is something we are well acquainted with in our every day lives; fireflies, glow worms, and various species of fish are all common examples of living creatures that release light energy through chemical reactions. As you probably already know, bioluminescence is not exclusive to the animal kingdom. Bacteria and certain species of fungi also emit light energy, which I personally think is pretty neat. All gushing aside, you’re probably now wondering something along the lines of ‘what large-scale implications could these creatures have on impacting human and technological development?’ An excellent question, if I do say so myself.

Design Student Has a Bright Idea

Scientists have investigated the possibilities of utilizing bioluminescent organisms in developing new technology in a myriad of ways. One of the more obvious potentials for harnessing these organisms would be to create light sources that did not rely on electricity. Teresa van Dongen, a student of design at the Eindhoven Design Academy with a background in biology, created the Ambio light for her graduation project which utilizes a type of bioluminescent bacteria that is often found on the tentacles of octopuses and gives off a soft blue light when it is exposed to oxygen. Dongen reportedly attempted to use algae in her experiment originally, but was met with the obstacle of having the algae only give off light approximately every thirty minutes instead of giving a more lasting and consistent radiance. Ultimately she found that the bacteria that are currently used in the Ambio were capable of emitting light for longer periods of time. This still has its limitations, however; the bacteria that is in the lamp can only live for a few days and also cannot remain static if it is to glow at all. Dongen says she is working with scientists to improve its lifespan and overall brightness, which presently is an overarching limitation to the development and implementation of bioluminescent lamps in general. Dongen also states that in order to alter the brightness significantly she would probably have to synthetically augment the bacteria to produce such an outcome.

This obstacle is still no reason to abandon hopes just yet. While on the subject of lamps, there is also the very real potential for eventually replacing streetlights in urban settings with glowing trees, which is something I’m still wrapping my head around mostly because of how badass that is. It’s a bit overwhelming. While the issue of maintaining an appropriate level of brightness that would be necessary to actually line streets safely is still very much one that needs more consideration, the future possibility of such innovative design is no less exciting.

Bioluminescence and Water Safety

Aside from replacing electrically powered lamps, scientists have also found ways to use bioluminescent bacteria to test the quality of water. SDIX, a company that specializes in biotechnology and is based out of Delaware, uses bacteria to do just this. When in the presence of certain chemicals or toxins such as heavy metals and pesticides, the glow from the bacteria diminishes as the light-making process is interrupted in the presence of these other harmful chemicals. This has significant implications for assessing the safety of water sources in the future and is only one of many possible outcomes of integrating bioluminescent organisms into technological design. Now all we have to do is just wait and see how things pan out and keep an eye on development, since this tech trend is likely not one that will be left in the dark any time soon.

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