Scientists have discovered that they can coax a tobacco plant into growing temporary solar cells by injecting it with a genetically engineered virus. Freaky, but the process may provide us with cheaper synthetic photovoltaic cells once quirks are sorted out.
At a quick glance, "hacking" tobacco plants to grow these solar cells sounds like it's full of benefits:
Using live organisms to create synthetic solar cells has several advantages over traditionally made solar panels. No environmentally toxic chemicals are required to make biologically derived solar cells, unlike traditional solar cells. Growing solar cells in tobacco plants could put farmers back to work harvesting an annual crop of solar cells.
There's just one rather big catch:
[S]cientists haven't even demonstrated that the cells can turn light into electrical or chemical energy yet. But they hope to do soon.
They can grow the cells, but they can't do too much with them yet. Geez. Let's hope they get around to sorting that part out, because until that happens this will be yet another way-too-good-to-be-used-in-real-life concept. While waiting around for that to happen though, you can read more about the details of the process over at Discovery and Treehugger. [Discovery via Treehugger]