Scientists Invent Grow-in-the-Dark Plants

By Andrew Tarantola on at

The Sun's rays power virtually all vegetative growth on the face of the Earth, or at least they used to. A new discovery by a team at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany will coerce plants into growing in total darkness.

Sunlight actually does more than simply provide plants with metabolic energy—it also activates photoreceptor cells called Phytochromes that, in turn, switch on physical processes like germination and blossoming. The study, which was just published in The Plant Cell journal, has devised an alternative means of jump-starting these same processes—relying on chemicals rather than the sun. The team discovered that feeding the substance "15Ea-phycocyanobilin" to seedlings chemically activates the same photoreceptors that natural light would, inducing the same development as those in a control group that were grown normally.

This discovery of course is still far from commercially viable but, if it does pan out, Tilman Lamparter, the director of the study, believes that it could have vast applications throughout the agriculture and research sciences. "Blossoming of flowers or development of the photosynthesis system may be controlled much better in the future," Lamparter told R&D Mag. "These findings would be of high use for agricultural industry in the cultivation of flowers or biomass production, for instance." I, for one, can think of at least a couple of specific applications where bigger, heavier flowers would be welcomed. [The Plant Cell via R&D Mag - Image (not of the actual sprouts): cmgirl / shutterstock]

Scientists Invent Grow-in-the-Dark Plants

The seedling on the right opens after ingesting the 15Ea-phycocyanobilin. The control seedling on the left remains closed. (Image: T. Lamparter, KIT)