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Forget street lamps, glow-in-the-dark trees could be lighting cities of the future

A Dutch designer has what seems like a wild idea for how to light the city of the future. Forget about street lamps. Daan Roosegaarde is collaborating with the State University of New York to create glow-in-the-dark trees.

In a video filmed at this year's South by Southwest festival, Roosegaarde explains his interest in biomimicry, or taking models from nature and using them to solve human problems.

"What can we learn from nature and apply to the build environment, to roads, to public spaces, our urban landscape?" he says.

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That question has led Roosegaarde to look at jellyfish and other biological organisms, such as fireflies, that create their own light.

"When a jellyfish is deep, deep underwater it creates its own light. It does not have a battery or a solar panel or an energy bill. It does it completely autonomously," he says in the video.

Roosegaard has teamed up with the State University of New York and a biotech company called Bioglow to pursue the possibility of creating glow-in-the-dark plants arranged to look like a luminescent tree.

That brave new, bright world might not be too far in the future. In the video, shot by Dezeen, Roosegaarde shows off a genetically modified houseplant that Bioglow unveiled earlier this year.

Its stem and leaves emit light thanks to the fact that the plant was created by combining DNA from glow-in-the-dark marine bacteria with the chloroplast genome of a houseplant.

"This is a very small version that we have produced. Right now we are teaming up with [the University of New York and Bioglow] to create a really big one of them like a tree instead of street lighting," Roosegaarde explains. "I mean, come on, it will be incredibly fascinating to have these energy-neutral but at the same time incredibly poetic landscapes."

Roosegaarde isn't the only one pursuing plans to make glow-in-the-dark trees.

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Last summer, a San Francisco-based entrepreneur launched a Kickstarter campaign with the same goal in mind.

"What if we used trees to light our streets instead of electric streetlamps?" Antony Evans asks in a video.

His "Glowing Plant Project" received close to half a million dollars in funding.

The goal of creating light-emitting trees, however, is a "long term," one, Evans explained to last year.

However far off it may be, projects like these are becoming science fact, and the possibilities are only now being imagined.

"Our generation's frontier is synthetic biology," Evans says.

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