UBCO student team shines with a living light bulb

Research Excellence | Strategy 8: Student Research
Theme: Innovation
UBCO students have created living life bulb that generates light from organic material.

A group of UBC Okanagan students have won gold with their creation of a living light bulb. Their creation, called Life Bulb, is not reliant on electricity and can convert greenhouse gases into oxygen.

The students competed in the 2022 International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) Competition, a synthetic biology competition in Paris involving more than 350 teams from more than 40 countries. Despite this being UBCO’s first showing in the competition and despite the associated struggles with starting a team from the ground up, the UBCO students won a gold medal for their project, says Dr. Mitra Tabatabaee, the Principal Investigator for Life Bulb.

With Life Bulb, the students are creating a sustainable alternative to LEDs using a fungal bioluminescent pathway with photosynthetic bacteria as their chassis. The project is still in testing, but the intention is to create a green, glowing light source that is easily scalable and can be powered through the sun thanks to photosynthesis.

“We wanted to provide this alternative sustainable source that can be potentially carbon-negative by absorbing greenhouse gases to reduce the impact that lighting has on our climate,” says Alyssa Kong, co-team lead and third-year Bachelor of Science student majoring in microbiology.

Life Bulb is an entirely student-led initiative, started in early 2022. It was the first project from the UBCO iGEM club, which was founded by Gustavo Muro Marchani, a third-year Bachelor of Science student majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology.

The team is interdisciplinary, with 16 students from backgrounds in biology, chemistry, engineering, computer science and management. In addition to faculty advisors from the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science and the School of Engineering, the team consulted with various stakeholders and industry professionals including lighting experts to get feedback. Syilx artist Les Louis also contributed by creating a blueprint for a wood carving that incorporates Life Bulb as an art medium.

Please visit the UBC Okanagan news site to read the full story.

Through Strategy 8: Student Research, UBC is expanding opportunities for undergraduates to gain first-hand experience in research and is strengthening research experiences for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.