38. Bioluminescence – Harnessing Natures Light

A wide range of organisms, from insects, fish and mollusks to bacteria and plankton, can produce light – as has been known for thousands of years. America spends billions of dollars to light its homes and streets. If science is able to find a means to light America using nature a tremendous amount of money could be saved by the American consumer, homeowner, manufacturers, and government. There is a great chance that this could be done.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that in 2016, about 279 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity were used for lighting by the residential sector and the commercial sector in the United States. This was about 10% of the total electricity consumed by both of these sectors and about 7% of total U.S. electricity consumption.

Residential lighting consumption was about 129 billion kWh or about 10% of total residential sector electricity consumption in 2016. The commercial sector, which includes commercial and institutional buildings, and public street and highway lighting, consumed about 150 billion kWh for lighting, equal to about 11% of total commercial sector electricity consumption in 2016. EIA does not have an estimate specifically for public street and highway lighting. In 2010, 52 billion kWh were consumed for lighting in manufacturing facilities, which was equal to about 1.3% of total U.S. electricity consumption in 2010. Bioluminescence is a form of chemiluminescence where light energy is released by a chemical reaction. Fireflies, anglerfish, and other organisms produce the light-emitting pigment luciferin and the enzyme luciferase. Luciferin reacts with oxygen to create light. The phenomenon is widely distributed among animal groups, especially in marine environments where dinoflagellates cause phosphorescence in the surface layers of water. On land, it occurs in fungi, bacteria and some groups of invertebrates, including insects. Light is produced by symbiotic organisms such as Vibrio bacteria.

Living light from fireflies, bacteria, and other luminescent creatures could change the way we illuminate our cities, fight cancer, and find toxins in our water. One long envisioned application for bioluminescence is to replace electric conventional streetlights, lit up road signs and interior lighting. One way of doing this possibly could be splicing genes from bioluminescent fireflies and marine bacteria into trees. Tree leaves would soak up sunlight during the day to provide energy through the night. Theo Sanderson a Ph.D. student at the Wellingcome Trust Sanger Institute is now working on this idea. Sanderson says growing leaves could be turned on and off by tinkering with the genes that control the plant’s circadian rhythm. The tree would come on at night and go off during the day. The trees would need only water, and nutrients to maintain their urban lighting duties. The major challenge for actually using plants will be ratcheting up the brightness.

The University of Sevilla has patented a method for culturing the bacteria Vibrio Fischer and the algae Pyrocystus fusiformis in order to configure bioluminescent devices that emit light without electricity consumption, with applications for environmental lighting and signaling. Eduardo Mayoral, a principal investigator of the patient who trained in Columbia and at the Faculty of Chemistry of the University of Sevilla, said: “This invention proposes a solution to these problems (power consumption and generation of waste) through the use of bioluminescent properties of these microorganisms, properly arranged in biodegradable lighting devices. These microorganisms do not have today the light output of a streetlight, but grown in a culture medium rich in nutrients and implemented in a suitable geometry, they work very well for signaling or lighting natural areas, also conveniently avoiding light pollution. These bioluminescent devices do not generate any type of waste and are 100% absorbable by the environment. Engineered bioluminescence could perhaps one day be used to reduce the need for street lighting, The problem is to produce light that is bright enough to make it usable and that can be sustained for a length of time. At present science has not found a means to do this however they are working on it.

I myself believe that science will move forward and find a way to harness light from algae, plants, and animals. It will take time, however, I do believe it will come about. Man has learned to learn from nature which has for millions if not billions of years through the process of evolution produce methods only recently studied. Much has to be overcome before modern man is able to harness what nature has already done but I believe that it will come about in the future. It is certainly worth spending government and private dollars on for if a means of doing so were found billions of dollars could be saved and much could be done to improve American and world environment.


Algae that is bioluminesent could be grown on buildings lighting them within them as well as the streets they stand on.



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