Bioconst Pty Ltd (“Bioconst”) is a South Australian-based, globally-focussed business that uses novel technologies to develop a range of plants that emit light.
The first products, Galassia Flowers, fluoresce due to application of a fluorescent formulation, and second generation fluorescent plants will be genetically modified. Whilst the Fluorescent Green plants form commercially viable products in their own right, their development will also generate know-how and intellectual property that will underpin the development of luminescent plants - i.e. plants that emit light in their own right, without the need of illumination by UV light.
The first fluorescent products have recently been released - they are now beyond the research phase and are for commercial sale. Proprietary fluorescent formulations have been developed in-house by Bioconst. The various formulations can be applied to the product in a number of ways, including as a spray. The formulations are protected by a provisional patent.
The core area of research and development currently in Bioconst for the second generation plants is the use of 'green fluorescent protein' (GFP) to make flowers fluoresce a bright green. GFP is a natural product, originally discovered in the jellyfish, Aequorea victoria.
Bioconst has synthesised a series of DNA constructs that contain various versions of the gene encoding an enhanced version of the green fluorescent protein isolated from jellyfish. The genes, driven by a range of constitutive and flower-specific promoters, have been inserted into binary vectors for plant transformation. Bioconst staff have the skills to design and clone further constructs with modifications as required. The synthesis of optimised genes and regulatory sequences is outsourced to synthetic gene companies.
Bioconst has established transformation procedures using Agrobacterium tumefaciens for a large range of target species, including species requested by clients of Bioconst.
In Bioconst, the gene encoding the GFP has now been transformed into several species, and the plants fluoresce brightly upon illumination with near UV wavelengths ("black light"), demonstrating their utility in many commercial applications. Fluorescent plants being developed in Bioconst include petunias, chrysanthemums and Antirrhinum (snapdragons), and work has started with other major commercial species such as lilies and orchids.
In parallel with the development of plants is the development of systems for their illumination. Using new LED technologies, growing plants, cut flowers and dried flowers can be illuminated, to enable the full appreciation of the GFP fluorescence in any location. This technology is protected by an Australian provisional patent application. Bioconst has engaged Fine-Tech (http://www.finetech.com.au/), an electronic engineering design company, to manufacture a series of illumination devices. The first devices are now available for sale, as described on our Galassia Flowers website.
Bioconst has research activity at the Waite Precinct, Australia's leading agricultural research, education and commercialisation cluster (http://www.adelaide.edu.au/campuses/waite/). The precinct has the largest concentration of expertise in the southern hemisphere in the areas of plant biotechnology, cereal breeding, sustainable agriculture, wine and horticulture and land management. Co-located partners have a track record in transferring technologies, products and services to market, with assistance from venture capital groups, commercial support companies and industry.
The first Fluorescent Green flowers were launched in to the Australian market on 1 February 2012, with fluorescent accessories and cut flowers. This will be followed later with market launches in the US, the EU, Japan and the Middle East. The first plants released use non-GM technologies, with second generation, GM, plants expected soon after. For product extension, flowers and foliage will be engineered to have, for example, different coloured fluorescence, different patterns of fluorescence and even change colour when they need watering. Further into the future, Bioconst will release bio-luminescent plants, which will again cater for the consumer market and will be launched towards the end of this decade.