These Color-Changing Flowers Can Be Watered With Beer
Have you ever wished that you had the power to control Mother Nature, waving your arms like Mickey Mouse in “Fantasia” and making flowers and mushrooms dance to “The Nutcracker Suite”? Soon you might be able to do just that, minus the arm-waving and the plants actually coming to life and dancing to a ballet.
The Color-Changing Flowers project on Indiegogo is currently attempting to raise funds — $75,000, to be exact — to use biotechnology to create flowers that change color. If the campaign is funded, backers will receive white petunias that can be watered with a dilute ethanol solution, such as leftover beer. The flowers will then turn red within 24 hours and stay red. If you want white flowers again, all you’ll have to do is switch back to regular water and any new blooms will be white.
A flower that changes from white to red at your command, made with the magic of biotechnology,” says the campaign. “Water this petunia with a special solution and it blooms red for up to a week.”
Although this might sound suspiciously like putting a white flower into some water and adding food coloring to make it change colors, the color-changing flower is more permanent than that, and plant molecular biologists Keira Havens and Nikolai Braun have even bigger plans for their petunias.
First, they want to refine the existing plant so it meets USDA guidelines and can be distributed to gardeners in the U.S. Then, if they reach their stretch goals, they want to create a petunia that smells like vanilla, a naturally blue rose and a new creation they call the Petunia Circadia: a flower that changes color all by itself using its natural circadian rhythms.
The team’s goal, they wrote on their Indiegogo page, is to explore “the ever-changing relationship between nature, technology and society.” They hope the color-changing petunia will be “the impetus for a culture-wide conversation about synthetic biology, genetic engineering and biotechnology.”
Together, Havens and Braun created biotech startup Revolution Bioengineering. After working together for four years in a Department of Defense-funded plant synthetic biology laboratory, the duo decided to use their “natural entrepreneurial synergy” to unlock the full potential of synthetic biology. They claim that by manipulating plants for purely aesthetic reasons, they hope to capture people’s imaginations and draw more attention to the way science can change the world.
For those who like a healthy dose of art in their science (and vice versa), the Color-Changing Flowers campaign runs until April 9 on Indiegogo; think of it as your chance to get in on the ground floor of vanilla-scented petunias.