The latest update came quietly on [in April 2017]. “We’re sorry to say that we have reached a significant transition point,” wrote the Glowing Plant project’s creator, Antony Evans. This “transition point” was more of an endpoint: The project had run out of money. The quest to genetically engineer a glow-in-the-dark plant was no more.
Four years ago, the Glowing Plant project raised nearly half a million dollars on Kickstarter, easily blowing past its initial ask of $65,000…This romantic vision so perfectly encapsulated the promises of synthetic biology, a field that treats the natural world as another system to be designed and engineered.
The team encountered the hard realities of engineering even a small plant that glows. “We did not anticipate some of the unknown technical challenges that we would get into,” Evans [stated]…To get the plant to glow well, the research team had to insert six genes. But they never could get all six in at once. At best, some plants glowed very dimly.
In the four years since Glowing Plant began, synthetic biology has caught the eye of investors. “Glowing Plant was iconic,” says Ryan Bethencourt, the program director at IndieBio, an accelerator for biology startups. “That was one the things that made me realize this was the time to start building up synthetic biology.”
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