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Visions of Treelight

A group of synthetic biology do-it-yourself researchers want to develop and sell glow-in-the-dark plants that could be used as decoration or, in the case of trees, to light streets, Andrew Pollack writes in the New York Times.

The plan is to work out of the BioCurious hacker lab space in Silicon Valley to initially splice DNA from a luminous organism like a jellyfish or marine bacterium into an Arabidopsis mustard plant and to move on to other plants later.\

The partners, including San Francisco tech entrepreneur Antony Evans and Omri Amirav-Drory, who runs a firm called Genome Compiler, also hope that their project will inspire others to pursue independent biology engineering, Pollack writes.

To fund the effort, the partners have raised $250,000 from around 4,500 Kickstarter donors in around two weeks, the Times reports.

“We hope to have a plant which you can visibly see in the dark (like glow-in-the-dark paint), but don’t expect to replace your light bulbs with version 1.0,” according to the project's Kickstarter page.

Not surprisingly, the plan has drawn concerned criticism from environmental groups, including Friends of the Earth and the ETC Group, who have asked Kickstarter to remove the project from its website and have asked the US Department of Agriculture to take some action, according to the Times.

The environmental groups said that the glowing mustard plant project will lead to the "widespread and uncontrolled release of bioengineered seeds and plants through the controversial and risky techniques of synthetic biology," Pollack notes.

So far, Kickstarter has told the critics to talk to the project's partners, and USDA has not responded to the letter, according to the Times.