A Biological Light Bulb that Uses Glowing Bacteria21/11/2016 / Categories : News
There are many innovative trends in the lighting industry, including concepts such as Power over Ethernet and light-based communications. However, these technologies are all characterized by being inorganic – they are all based on electronic components.
The concept of a living light bulb had never been tried, until now. A group of students from Newcastle University, in the UK, has combined electronic circuits with genetically modified bacteria to produce light. The concept was presented at the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) contest, which had the participation of 300 teams coming from 40 countries.
How Does the Biological Light Bulb Work?
- coli bacteria have been used in a broad range of genetic experiments, including the use of bioluminescence genes to make them glow in the dark. Depending on the type of genes used, E. coli can glow with different colors of light.
- When modified with firefly genes, E. coli bacteria have produced yellow, green or red light.
- Blue light like that of LEDs has also been produced with E. coli, using genes from Vibrio fischeri, a bioluminescent marine bacterium.
- coli bacteria don’t normally emit light, but when stimulated by electric current or temperatures above 42°C, they start to glow thanks to their electroluminescence genes. This means it is possible to “switch” them on demand, just like a conventional light bulb.
The Power Source is Also Biological
These electroluminescent E. coli bacteria are used along with a microbial fuel cell (MFC), a device that uses bacteria to produce heat and electricity from biomass. In a few words, the biological light bulb can turn organic waste into lighting with just two steps, and does not consume electricity from the power grid.
Microbial fuel cells have already been used to power miniature scavenger robots, which can operate indefinitely by harvesting their own energy from organic waste. These scavenger robots could be revolutionary in wastewater treatment plants, which consume large amounts of energy. If MFCs are applied here, it would be possible to break down organic waste, but instead generating electricity in the process!
The most remarkable aspect of biological light bulbs is that they can directly convert biomass into lighting, without intermediate steps. This had only been accomplished indirectly: using biomass to power an electric generator, and then using the generator to power electrical appliances of all types, including light bulbs.
The use of biological matter in lighting and other technological applications brings the possibility of having self-repairing components made from living tissue. Of course, there is an ethical question to address: up to what point is it acceptable to use lifeforms in lighting and energy applications?
The lighting industry could evolve greatly over the next few years, integrating elements from the IT industry, and now microbiology and genetic engineering. Industry talent is now more connected as well, thanks to information technologies and freelancing platforms such as LightPro.