Lighting up, one bacteria at a time!

How a street light up with Glowee lights would look-such natural lights would also cause a lot less light pollution.


Fireflies that glow in the dark seem creatures of magic.  But this ability of animals to produce their own light is not that rare in nature. Many marine creatures that live in the deep depths of the ocean also produce light through a process of bioluminescence. Now, a company in France is tapping that energy source to produce an environment friendly lighting system.

A new way of lighting

Glowee, a young company based in the European nation of France has launched a light that works on the principle of bioluminescence. These lights use glow-in-the-dark bacteria and can last up to three days. The company is offering these lights to shops for lighting store windows and for use as street lights.

The science  

Many creatures such as this jelly fish are capable of bioluminescence (Image courtesy: Chris Favero/Flickr)
Many creatures such as this jelly fish are capable of bioluminescence (Image courtesy: Chris Favero/Flickr)

Bioluminescent creatures produce light thanks to a chemical reaction within their bodies that causes them to glow. What Glowee did was to use bioluminescent bacteria floating in a gel (a jelly-like substance) to create the light. Small transparent (see-through) cases were filled with bacteria- Glowee uses a bacteria called Aliivibrio fischeri, which gives marine animals such as the Hawaiian bobtail squid the ability to glow with a blue-green light. The gel provides nutrition (food) that keeps the bacteria alive. Initially, the bacteria glowed for just a few seconds. But by improving the gel so that it ‘feeds’ the bacteria better, the Glowee team was able to produce a light that lasts three days.

What lies ahead?

Producing a light that lasts more than just three days by keeping the bacteria alive is one of the challenges that Glowee faces. Plus, it will have to find ways to produce the bacteria on a large scale if cities want to use such lighting systems. The company is also working on a solution to make the creatures glow only at night which will help save energy and make the lights last longer.

Whatever the challenges, the fact is these new lights show us the way we need to go in order to reduce our dependence on electric supply that comes from power plants burning polluting fuel. Every little bit helps!