Saffron's Space

Bacterial Lightbulbs

October 30, 2013 | 4 Comments




This week in When Science Fiction Becomes Reality I want to show you something very cool: light-bulbs made of bio-luminescent bacteria.

What is it?

Basically the idea is to have a light ‘bulb’ composed entirely of glowing bacteria. This system would provide light without using any electricity.

The Science:

The science behind this concept is relatively simple. The gene for a glowing protein is inserted into a bacteria (e.g. E. coli) and these form part of an ecosystem contained within the ‘bulb’. This is a self-contained system which recycles its own waste while emitting the glow.

BiobulbThe Future:

With this kind of technology it would be possible to completely replace electrical lights with bacterial ones. These bacteria driven lights wouldn’t require any electricity, making them almost completely waste free. At the moment the production is limited and the glow wouldn’t replace a standard electrical bulb but it’s early days.

It’s even possible to insert these glowing genes into plants and animals. Imagine if streets and parks, and even your home, was lit by the glow of fluorescent plants? While your glow-in-the-dark cat walks down your driveway.

In-fact, imagine a whole world which is lit by the cold glow of luminescent proteins (don’t generate heat). “Have you fed the lights yet dear?” As you go along sprinkling nutrient broth onto the glowing bacteria.


Personally I’m excited by this field of synthetic biology, the benefits to the environment in terms of power-saving are tremendous but mostly I’m excited about the truly ‘alien’ nature of this technology. In my head I can see a spaceship lit by the glow of bacterial swarms… [Goes back to writing science fiction novel].

What do  you think of these breakthroughs? If you could pick one thing to glow in the dark what would it be (living or inanimate)?

Don’t forget to check out other cases of When Science Fiction Becomes Reality.

You can read more about this project (and see some great pictures) here.


4 Comments so far

  1.    Dean M on October 30, 2013 7:06 am      Reply

    These look awesome and indeed the possibilities are endless.

    I’d like to see biolumineecent car keys. Because I keep losing mine.

    •    saffron on October 30, 2013 8:24 am      Reply

      ooh good idea! I’m a bit of a sucker for the glow-in-the-dark kittens myself 🙂

  2.    Maria on March 4, 2016 9:47 am      Reply

    First of all I would like to say awesome blog!I had a quick qutesion which I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your thoughts before writing. I have had trouble clearing my mind in getting my ideas out. I do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually lost simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or tips? Cheers!

    •    saffron on November 28, 2016 5:25 am      Reply

      Hi Maria,

      Thank you for your comment and for dropping by! Here are a couple of things that you might want to think about:
      1) Outline your story before hand with a little sentence to describe what will happen in each chapter. I write about 1 chapter a day, so I just glance at that description and I know what I’m writing.
      2) When you stop writing for the day, stop half-way through a sentence. That way, when you come to sit down the next day the first thing you do is finish that sentence, it’s like a little push to get you started and from there you just keep writing.
      3) Don’t feel too bad if it takes you 15 mins to get started, some people it takes hours!!

      I hope that helps, and good luck with your writing!

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