Glow-In-The-Dark Firefly™ Petunias Will Light Gardens This Spring!

Yes, they're for real!


Firefly petuniasLight Bio, an innovative synthetic biology startup, has created groundbreaking bioluminescent Firefly™ petunias, which are now available for pre-order in the U.S. With support from biotech leaders such as NFX and Ginkgo Bioworks, Light Bio is reimagining the horticultural industry by introducing a new category of plants that emit an ethereal glow to enrich homes, gardens, and public spaces.

With shipping starting in April, glowing petunias will be available under the brand Firefly™ Petunia, so named because the bright buds resemble fireflies. Last September, the USDA determined through its independent evaluation that Light Bio’s genetically engineered Firefly Petunia may be safely grown and bred in the U.S.

Light Bio chose the petunia as its first product because it’s one of the most popular ornamental plants in the world. The Firefly Petunia is indistinguishable from conventional petunias, except that it gives off an ethereal aura at night. From seedling to mature plant, it glows without any specialized requirements or treatment.

The soft illumination of the Firefly Petunia is similar to moonlight, creating an opportunity for plant enthusiasts to enjoy the magical experience of living light. When seeing these plants, people often think of the bioluminescent paradise imagined in the hugely popular Avatar movies. This imaginative spectacle is now becoming a reality for homes and gardens.

“This milestone—and the magical experience we are bringing to people across the country—has been decades in the making,” said Keith Wood, CEO of Light Bio. “As part of the scientific team that discovered the bioluminescence genes from fireflies, I helped create the first glowing plant in 1986 which has inspired scientists worldwide. In the forty-odd years since, we have discovered a new bioluminescence technology that now allows us to bring these delightful plants to consumers. We can’t wait to see their reactions and to discover the bright future ahead for this incredible technology.”

The Science Behind It

People are fascinated with glowing plants, and scientists have now discovered genetic modifications which enhance bioluminescence in a variety of plants by up to 100 times. The team of 26 scientists, working across nine research organizations, created the brighter plants by optimizing genes isolated from multiple species of luminous mushrooms.

The new research builds on an earlier discovery for creating continuously glowing plants by inserting DNA obtained from the mushrooms. Those researchers had revealed a surprising similarity between mushroom bioluminescence and plant metabolism, allowing for more visible light than was previously possible. In this new report, the scientists have adapted the inserted genes to further boost luminescence.

The improvements were not limited to glowing plants. The scientists showed that the genetic modifications also elevated luminescence in yeast and mammalian cells. But the luminescence in plants was entirely self-sustaining owing to the metabolic synergy. This enables perpetual illumination without any external aid. Petunias provided the brightest bioluminescence, especially in the flower buds.

“This is an incredible achievement for synthetic biology. Light Bio is bringing us leaps and bounds closer to our solarpunk dream of living in Avatar’s Pandora,” said Jason Kelly, CEO and co-founder of Ginkgo Bioworks. “This achievement isn’t just novel and exciting — it shows how the power of synthetic biology can light a passion for nature and technology. We at Ginkgo are thrilled to continue to support Light Bio in illuminating the world. And we couldn’t be more excited by our partnership, in which our teams are working together to make the next generation of their glowing plants ten times brighter.”

Light Bio continually optimizes the genetics of bioluminescent plants to further increase brightness. Working in collaboration with Ginkgo Bioworks, Light Bio anticipates that future plants will be at least 10-fold brighter. More plant varieties and more colors are also envisioned. In addition to the pure joy these plants bring, the underlying science also helps to elucidate the molecular physiology of plants. The teams believe that insights gained from this research will bring meaningful advancements across critical areas like food security and nutrition.

Light Bio is now taking pre-orders for Firefly Petunias, available here.  Approximately 50,000 plants are available for purchase on their website and can be shipped to all 48 contiguous states in the US. One plant costs $29 USD and customers will start receiving plants this April.

All photos: Light Bio

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