Green Glowing Plants—THE HORROR!


Glowing Plant
Glowing Plant Project

“What if someone decides it would be cute to light up a national forest?” asked Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at New York University and an adviser to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on synthetic biology, in a front page Washington Post article on the Kickstarted effort to produce plants that glow. Puhleez!

Caplan is usually more sensible than that sensationalist comment makes him seem, so I suspect a bit of journalist selectivity in citing him. Anyway, the Post article is an example of overwrought (and pointless) handwringing about do-it-yourself biotechnology. Last month, Reason contributing editor Greg Beato highlighted the Glowing Plant Project in which a group of DIY biotechnologists plan to insert light-emitting genes from bacteria into thale cress. They then plan to send along packets of seeds to their Kickstarter supporters who can amaze their friends with their cool new plant nightlights.

Naturally, the usual bunch of luddites oppose the project. As the Post reports:

Deeming it “a new biotech threat coming from Silicon Valley,” the environmental watchdog ETC Group started an online petition calling on Kickstarter to shut down the project. Nearly 14,000 people signed it.

Let's assume that some supporters decide to plant their thale cress outdoors. What is the worst that could happen? It would grow along side of other thale cress. Since it glows in the dark, it might even draw more attention from predators who think of it as a salad green.

But seriously folks, over the past 30 years, no plant varieties enhanced by modern biotechnology have become pests. It is extremely unlikely that a tiny glow-in-the-dark plant will do so. ETC and the other activists are just fearmongering for money and attention.

Disclosure and Conflict of Interest: I am one the Kickstarter supporters of the project and am eagerly awaiting my packet of seeds next September. I haven't decided where to plant them yet.

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  1. “What if someone decides it would be cute to light up a national forest?”

    People might actually be interested in checking out a national forest?

    1. Why is that statement “sensationalist”? Now that you mention it, I think it would be cute, but not as cute as lighting it in patterns that could be seen from the air or on mountainsides, spelling out messages or making pictures.

      1. Because it implies that terrorist activists will go around spraying glow-DNA everywhere and instantly vandalize nature.

        It’s sheer ignorant chicken little screaming.

  2. Wasn’t that in the blue people movie?

    1. You mean The Smurfs… In Space?

      1. Avatar?

        1. There were no blue people in the last airbender.

  3. “What if someone decides it would be cute to light up a national forest?”

    What if someone decides to set fire to a national forest? Or put out poison bait and kill a bunch of animals? Or set up boobie traps to maim hikers? Or unleash STEVE SMITH?

    There are a million things you could worry about that would be much worse than some glow in the dark herbs being planted.

  4. But seriously folks, over the past 30 years, no plant varieties enhanced by modern biotechnology have become pests.

    Last I heard those genetically modified crops that are resistant to Roundup are going to cause the extinction of the Monarch Butterfly. You see, the butterflies eat milkweed on their migration, but the genetically modified crops allow farmers to kill milkweed that they couldn’t kill before. So now the butterflies don’t have food for their migration, and they’re all going to die. Because of genetically modified crops.

    At least that’s what some hand wringer on NPR said. This was right after a segment where they said global climate change was the cause of the Syrian conflict. You see, climate change caused a drought which forced unemployed farmers into the cities where they got restless and decided to start a war.

    They’re serious!

  5. Wait, they’re not going to make me glowing TREES?

    I am disappointed.

  6. Caplan is usually more sensible than that sensationalist comment makes him seem

    Is he usually more sensible than the title “bioethicist” makes him seem?

    1. Other than being generally anti human, what else was the common trait of “bio-ethicist”s?

  7. Finding ways to illuminate things without the need to burn fossil fuels sounds like a great idea from an environmental perspective.

    Why is it that the only solutions that never get any criticism from environmentalists are the ones that amount to self-deprivation?

    1. They’re modern flagellants now that that has been fetishized.

    2. Ken, you hit it on the head. Consider natural gas. Clean, cheap, lots of it here in the US – from an environmental perspective, it is a windfall. But… it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice to be using it, so it cannot possibly be worth promoting. I teach some engineering courses where I spend a little time probing the meaning of “sustainability” – I ask my students what the ultimate goal of the sustainable movement should be. Usually, we end up with some variant of “improving life as much as possible for as many future humans as possible.” If this truly were the goal, the sustainability movement would look much different than it does today.

      1. “Sustainability” in engineering is starting to amount to trading functionality of a design for superfluous crap. Or in transportation, deliberately making designs less convenient with shit like speed bumps.

        1. Honestly, I believe it is almost completely about how it makes you feel rather than any link to functionality at all. I ask my students whether buying a Prius is a “sustainable choice”. They almost universally say yes. Then I show them how silly their strong assertion is due to their lack of knowledge that should inform the decision, and their tendency to commit the broken window fallacy. When it comes down to it, the idea of buying a Prius makes them feel like they are being sustainable, and that is all that matters…

    3. That is the clearest statement of the environmentalist psychology that I have ever seen!

      The only addition, is, they are even happier when it deprives me too!

      1. “The only addition, is, they are even happier when it deprives me too!”

        Forcibly depriving others is the main objective to begin with.

    1. How do you get it to sit still while you pour on the lighter fluid?

  8. A copy of the book, a full set of instructions and all the ingredients you need to transform your own plant at home, in your lab or at school. It does not include Glowing Plant seeds, but does include all the ingredients you need to make a plant, including DNA agro-bacterium and Arabidopsis seeds.

    Living in the future has some pretty awesome things, even if it appears we’re in/heading for a cyberpunk dystopia. I can buy a kit to make genetically engineered plants in my kitchen? Yes, please.

  9. Didn’t any of these people see Avatar? People were threatening suicide because they couldn’t live on Pandora with all its glowing plants and 3D effects and Sigourney Weaverses.

    1. They want “blue privilege”.

  10. How long until there is glowing purple Kush or White Widow?

    1. Are you implying no glow in the dark black widows?


  11. I imagine there will be unintended consequences, but I suspect they will be marginal – both harmful and beneficial. Of course, the harmful side effects will be highlighted and overblown, while the beneficial effects will be marginalized or attributed to something else. That’s how environmentalists roll.


    1. Well, he did put a disclaimer and shit, so…

    2. Are the Koch Vampires reverse vampires?

      And where does the RAND (Paul?) Corporation fit in here?

      1. What’s a reverse vampire?

        Someone that injects their psychic energy into you?

  13. Caplan is usually more sensible than that sensationalist comment makes him seem[…]

    Right, well, you know what they say: It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation and just a fleeting moment of stupidity to ruin it forever. That should apply to Caplan just like any other mere mortal.

  14. But seriously folks, over the past 30 years, no plant varieties enhanced by modern biotechnology have become pests.

    Well, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen, right?

  15. So, let me get this straight…A tiny plant that glows in the dark is the Apocalypse, but completely revamping the health care system of the richest country in history can’t possibly go wrong?

  16. This is definitely going on my wish list.

  17. The concept is thermodynamically retarded. Plants run on light, making them produce it is just plain inefficient. Unless you compress millenia of biomass into fossil fuels.

    1. The glowy garden fairy lights run on light too. They are solar powered, they just store it during the day and emit it at night. Same thing here. That’s what phosphorescent plankton does.

      1. You just had to go and get all factual and rational on us, didn’t you?

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