Three undergraduate students from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, hope to change that with the help of crowdfunding.
"The Biobulb is essentially a closed ecosystem in a jar," says biochemistry major Michael Zaiken in the team's video pitch. "It's going to contain several different species of microorganisms, and each organism plays a role in the recycling of vital nutrients that each of the other microbes need to survive."
The kit's key ingredient will be a genetically engineered species of Escherichia coli bacteria. These microbes live inside the intestines of humans and other animals, and they don't normally glow in the dark. But Zaiken and his two teammates, Alexandra Cohn (a genetics and philosophy double-major) and AnaElise Beckman (a neurobiology and anthropology double-major), plan to insert a loop of DNA into E. coli that will allow the bacteria to bioluminesce like jellyfish, fireflies, squid, or some other light-producing lifeform.
Electricity won't power the bulb. The genetically modified E. coli plus a growth media, microbes that use ambient light to create food and recycle waste, and a bulb should be able to glow and recharge repeatedly, perhaps for days or months. (Sort of like a glowing version of those aquatic ecosystems sealed into glass spheres that you see in airline catalogs.)
Biobulb isn't available yet; the team still needs to study the best genes, kit ingredients, and caretaking methods. One of the current challenges is finding a way to keep the DNA that codes for bioluminescence inside the E. coli as the cells replicate. "Right now we are looking at a couple of strategies to keep the [bioluminescence] genes stable over long periods of time," Zaiken says on the Biobulb project's RocketHub page.
More than delivering a cool product, Cohn hopes the crowdfunding project will cast a positive light on the field of synthetic biology. "Many people don't understand what exactly synthetic biology is," she says.
For more on the Rockethub-Popular Science #CrowdGrant Challenge, click here.
We understand this ... you're playing god with a non-electric light bulb. One day the whole world will be so bright you won't be able to see anything.
You know its going to happen when some wise guy decides to eat it, so he can have glow in the dark poop! LoL
it would be better if it wasn't a dangerous bacteria.
what happens if the bulb breaks?
They might be able to make it last longer by incorporating a photosynthetic organism to recharge the system during the day.
Actually, after watching the video again, it sounds like they might be using something photosynthetic, but they didn't really spell it out specifically.
I am Alexandra Cohn, a member of the Biobulb team. We will respond to all of these comments in a video by the end of the week. Check back on our facebook page for updates about our project and to watch the video once it is posted. www.facebook.com/biobulb
How do you turn it off at night when you want to go to sleep?
there is some good, applied science at work here so i really wish you good luck. i am no genetics major but what i'm worried about and shouldn't be downplayed is the part of the "caretaking" methodology. i have had a hard enough time keeping a fish bowl livable let alone the fish happy. it may be that i am taking the analogy too far here but i imagine there are ph levels & the like, heat and other factors to keep the little critters alive. i just want a bulb i want to plug in and forget and not have to dip a probe once in a while. i am also concerned about the "closed ecosystem" bit because most of the "environment" that have been successful I know of have always been in conjunction of a symbiosis relationship such as between an actual host -- human -- and the multitudes of microorganisms living in our guts. please feel free to correct me if there are environments out there in nature wherein these micro-critters don't need a host to survive or a constant food source. i sincerely hope this just does not up as a classroom curiosity or experiment and will find real applications out there in the real world. Best of luck, young sirs and ladies, and i hope you win some science award or something.
Will you be able to make Mars Blue with your technology?
Seriously though, I think the most difficult obstacle will be candle power. Most bioluminescence in nature is dim or only produces a quick flash. I do find it strange that biologists are always using E coli for experiments. And ciphers question about using a dangerous organism like E coli is a very good question.
What candle power do you expect to produce with the BioBulb?
Will you be using selective breeding to produce the right combination of organisms to cohabit and make a brighter self charging BioBulb system?
Wouldn't it be better to use a harmless bacteria instead of E coli even though E coli is probably the "fruit fly of bacteria"? (most experiments)
I'm sure almost any light source will improve 3rd world country population quality of life but are you sure you can attain a brightness that will really help?
Will any of your synthetic biology be derived from Omphalotus olearius?
What other technologies will be used in your invention? (3D printing, DNA sequencing, microscopic imaging, something that seems unrelated, etc)
How will this be cheaper and brighter than a solar powered LED?
Low tech solution: cover it with a paper bag?
You want free energy forever?
GEOTHERMAL ENERGY and TESLA'S TOWERS.
But it will never happen, Big Oil won't allow it.
Free energy is easy to acquire. Just die and as you body decays and becomes food for the worms, you then become part of GIA, the endless Earth life force cycle.
First of all to create a reliable confined ecosystem like that is everything but trivial. Secondly and most importantly, at best, the glow generated by the bacteria would be barely able to allow you to read the time on your old fashion mechanical wrist watch!
It Could look cool on your nighstand, though!
Bottom line: NEXT!