Yes, you heard right. Researchers in Denmark have been working on the idea that glowing trees could potentially replace streetlights at some point in the foreseeable future. Technologies such as the crisper-cas9 gene editing tool have enabled scientists to imagine a world where the boundaries of possibility are seemingly limitless. We’ve all seen, or at the very least, heard of “glowing” flora and fauna in nature. Certain varieties of plankton, jelly fish, insects and many other organisms retain this, somewhat magical characteristic. Gene editing gives scientists the capability to select desirable traits from a particular species and potentially give it to another. In this case, as it pertains to glowing trees, that characteristic is known as bioluminescence. So, does this mean that Can-Traffic Services is to become Can-Traffic Landscaping? Will we be trading in our bucket trucks for tree spades? The short answer is no, probably not, and here’s why.
Just because we can doesn’t mean we should
First off, there is the question of ethics. What impact would genetically engineered glowing trees have on the existing ecosystems for which they are implanted? Could the biologically diverse species within that ecosystem be subject to harm by feeding or just simply by residing on the organism. Could the glowing trees themselves overpopulate or affect other natural populations, leading to an entirly new set of problems? Many questions like these have to be answered before the concept could even be considered as potentially viable. But, this is not even the biggest problem with the concept. So, what is?
Functionality of streetlights vs glowing trees
As a contractor involved in the completion of a multitude of different streetlighting projects, Can-Traffic Services is required to be current on all local specifications and regulations. Each tender, project, municipality, region and so on, has different photometric standards which they set as a minimum for their lighting criteria. Factors such as Uniformity, luminance, glare, reflectance, throws, lumen depreciation and distribution are just a few of the considerations set out by the Alberta Transportation Highway Lighting Guide. It seems highly improbable that glowing trees, in relation to the information currently available on them, would meet or exceed even the smallest of the guideline characteristics indicative of proper, functioning streetlights. In order for glowing trees to take root, at this point, it would require an entire re-write of all existing regulations. A prospect, once again that seems rather unlikely.
But I want glowing trees!
Just because, at the moment, glowing trees do not meet the requirements to illuminate an Alberta highway, does not mean they do not have a potential future application. It is conceivable that these trees, assuming there is no ethical constraint, could find a home along a sidewalk or a pathway. They may have applications in parks or other public areas. There is no doubt that the idea of being surrounded by a forest of glowing trees defiantly has its own appeal. Another plus for the glowing tree is that they do not require energy (outside of the sun) to function. This lies in contrast to the existing low energy alternative, the LED. Further to this, there could be some measurable environmental benefits in regards to oxygen production and CO2 absorption. We now live in a world that is driven by technological advancements. These advancements tempt us to look further and further into the future and thus the realm of possibility. With all the far reaching and extraordinary feats humanity is currently trying to achieve, it seems that anything is possible. Expeditions to Mars, moon bases, space tourism, these are just a few of the things we have in sight, why not add glowing trees to the list.
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