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Create GLOWING PLANTS using synthetic biology and Genome Compiler's software - the first step in creating sustainable natural lighting
Create GLOWING PLANTS using synthetic biology and Genome Compiler's software - the first step in creating sustainable natural lighting
8,433 backers pledged $484,013 to help bring this project to life.

Stopping work on the Glowing Plant

Posted by Antony Evans (Creator)


We're sorry to say that we have reached a significant transition point. We were planning to start shipping the fragrant moss two weeks ago, but this has been delayed due to contamination in our production strain. As you know from previous updates our plan was to use the revenues from the moss to fund the ongoing glowing plant research, so the delay has caused financial stresses. As a consequence we’ve had to reduce the size of the team to ensure we have enough financial runway to ship the moss, and this has meant stopping the work we were doing on higher plants to focus on the moss.  

We know this is a disappointing outcome for everyone, and nobody feels this more than we do after putting everything we have into the project over the last four years. We’ve done everything we could to keep this research going but it doesn’t look like that was enough.  

As we indicated in our last update we are working on glowing moss, and hope to keep that work going. The priority now though is shipping our fragrant moss as we won’t be able to deliver glowing moss without delivering that first and we have a responsibility to our equity investors to bring revenue in as soon as possible.

Fragrant moss  

With regards the fragrant moss, the delay was caused by contamination of the moss we have in production. Somehow, for reasons we haven't been able to ascertain, some cells still have a herbicide resistance gene which means we can't ship this batch. We expect to fix this issue but it’s going to take time to regrow the moss back to full volume once we do.  

We have finalised the design of the moss, we’ll be shipping it with a circular glass terrarium and growing it on white rocks. We are branding it ‘Orbella’ and it looks like this:  

Orbella Fragrant Moss
Orbella Fragrant Moss

We have also designed the packaging for the moss. We’ve managed to make virtually all the packaging from compostable materials, so it will have zero waste, including protection for the glass provided by a mushroom grown material in partnership with Ecovative, it looks like this (we haven't printed the boxes yet): 

Orbella Moss Packaging
Orbella Moss Packaging

Since discovering the contamination issue we've also been working to improve the growth rate of the moss so that we can scale production faster than we did before. This has meant moving to a liquid growth system as shown here:

Prototype moss liquid culture
Prototype moss liquid culture

This system is working well, and we've gone from the moss biomass tripling in two weeks to a 5x growth in one week - an 8 fold improvement in growth rate. Our revised shipping date is now July.


What about refunds?  

As we’ve indicated in a previous update we have spent way more than the kickstarter funds on the project so we cannot offer refunds. Instead we'll offer credits of your kickstarter pledge towards buying the moss and planter once those ship.

What about physical rewards, eg vases?  

Those are mostly in storage in our basement, however we don’t have the funds for shipping and fulfilment.  We hope to ship them once we have revenues from the moss sales.

What about the book?  

This might still happen, depending on finding time beyond the work on the moss, but if it happens it will be more focused on the human elements behind the project, going through YC as one of their first biotechs and the challenges of failing so publicly. The priority for now though is shipping the moss.  

What is the status of the maker kit?  

This is still shipping in beta. Nobody has managed to successfully transform the plant at home with it yet however so we’ve still been making changes to the kit design. We will ship this to those interested in trying to debug it at home. If you want to try the kit, the first step is to get a permit from USDA which you can do by following the instructions in this file: Dropbox Link. 

What are next steps for the project?  

We still believe in the long-term potential of this project. The imperative to move the world towards a lower carbon and non-renewable resource footprint is as strong as ever. Synthetic biology and it's ability to enhance natural, renewable process remains a strong candidate to deliver that cleaner future. Unfortunately, we almost certainly launched this project many years too early with too many technical issues to overcome. Progress in the field over the last four years has been substantial: DNA synthesis has fallen from around $0.25 to $0.08 a base pair, cloud based robotic labs have become available and CRISPR has made fine edits routinely possible (which among other things will mean accelerated understanding of gene function). 

One of the most frustrating things about where this has ended up is that we never got to get all six genes into a plant. It's still unclear whether this is caused by toxicity of the genes or challenges with getting such a large construct inserted correctly. Our primary hypothesis is the latter so we are hoping someone else would be interested in carrying on the attempts to insert the genes. If you are interested in taking the DNA we've made and working on transformations yourself please get in touch at so we can send it to you - hopefully someone else can build on what we've done and figure out the remaining steps.


This has been an undeniably challenging journey, filled with the kind of highs and lows that you only get when you have the privilege to work on something that's impactful and meaningful. It wouldn't have been possible without your tremendous support and enthusiasm funding this campaign.  Thank you also for the many messages of support - both online and privately - as we've gone through this process, that support kept us going despite the challenges we faced. I'm sorry that we've let you down on delivering the Glowing Plant. I hope though that despite that failure the project can still leave a positive legacy in inspiring people to learn more about synthetic biology and its benefits - and hopefully one day someone does finally make a Glowing Plant.


The Glowing Plant Team

Peter Schröder, John Skotnik, and 39 more people like this update.


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    1. Antony Evans Creator on

      Trevor: We haven't totally given up on the glowing plant, we are still hoping for glowing moss as an intermediary... we need the fragrant moss to sell to fund that however!

    2. Trevor Kies on

      As someone who donated 150 dollars for a glowing plant and who understood it would take an enormously long time, I'm disappointed that I'm getting "fragrant moss"

    3. Santa Monica on

      I think to conversion to moss is a nice move.

    4. Missing avatar

      Matt on

      I feel like I've received at least my investment's worth of value from the detailed updates and videos of your development process. Honestly, even now I'd chip in more to keep the project going if that were and option - but it sounds like not everybody here shares my opinion.

      Anyway, just wanted to thank you for the interesting journey. Sometimes R&D doesn't pan out. I hope you can find others interested in continuing this research.

    5. Antony Evans Creator on

      Erin: I'm sorry you feel we are treating our kickstarter backers as less important than equity backers, that's simply not the case. We aren't trying to market the moss to you, we are offering the credit as a consolation because we failed to ship the glowing plant and precisely because we do value you. From the previous comments most backers seem excited by the updates on the moss which is why we kept sharing them (also we hope it forms the basis for glowing moss).

    6. Antony Evans Creator on

      Sergio: We were familiar with the paper you referenced, in fact we refer to it in the 'history of glowing plants' image on the landing page and put it forward as evidence the concept was good. There are several issues with chloroplast engineering for this project. 1) No method for removing antibiotic genes from selection cassette, obvious why releasing 1 million seeds of antibiotic plants would be a bad idea 2) The plants were very dim and they were already using the strongest chloroplast promoter. they were also a sickly light green color, likely due to not making chlorophyll. Nuclear expression seemed to offer much more promise for more sophisticated genetic constructs to make it brighter. 3) that approach has been patented, which would have conflicted with our open source approach.

    7. Erin Abraham on

      Like others have said, I too am used to failed kickstarters and it isn't why I fund projects on here. This was a dream project and up until this update, I never regretted throwing away money on it. But this update....well, it's not that you failed or are giving up that bothers me, it's the "we failed the project you bought into, but here is this other thing I will sell you for more money so my very important equity backers can make some money" that bothers me. I believed in you guys right up until you started looking for equity investors. I took that as a bad sign. I hope you never try another kickstarter. I don't mind that some projects fail, but I do mind being told that my backing was less important, especially when our backing was a sign that we believed in you early in your dream. We dreamed with you, but clearly you don't think that much of us.

    8. Missing avatar

      Sergio Botero on

      Following my previous comment about a poorly designed research plan, you did find the genes are not toxic as you point out, in that case you shouldn't be talking about not knowing that. You know the genes are not toxic from the agrobacterium results, you simply couldn't find a way to get the whole construct /set of constructs into the plant. Also, there is a paper published in 2010 where this goal was already achieved (…) expressing the 6 genes in the chloroplast, which is more similar to a bacterium where the genes come from and this is offered by a company ( Basically by the time you were asking for funds there was already a bioluminiscent plant that worked with the Lux system. Contrary to all the positive comments I think this shows terrible preparation. I consider it my own fault as a biologist for backing the project and not finding out about this publication until now, but as a researcher to develop a project and not be aware of the literature out there is just completely unacceptable. While every project has risks I consider this omission to be beyond acceptable and believe a refund should be issued.

    9. Antony Evans Creator on

      Michael: That sounds good. Please get them to fill out the form here:

    10. Missing avatar

      Michael Hall on

      As so many have already said, it's really hard to believe it has been so long since this journey started. Even without glowing plants to show for it, I'm still glad to have been a part of it. The updates have been well worth the price of admission, and it has been greatly satisfying to know that I was a part of making it all happen. If nothing else, this project has helped me convince many people of the potential benefits of synthetic biology, and that was one the things I most hoped to come out of this. In the end, a pot of fragrant moss that I can show off is probably an even more marketable face for biotech than glowing plant, at least for now. It's sufficiently inoffensive that it should give me a safe place to start the conversation with people.
      Also, I'm glad that the DIY kits are still a thing, even if they have been having issues. Near me is a community college with an amazing biology department that offers several classes in biochemistry and genetics. I'm going to get in touch with some of the professors I know there and see if I can sell them on the idea of helping to debug the kits. It seems like something that would be a good basis for a couple of semesters of curriculum, even if they couldn't get it working.

    11. Joe & Nick Schaeppi on

      As a backer of this project as well as a creator, I have a lot of respect for these guys. I can't imagine to work so hard at something for so long and for it to just not work out. Success isn't linear. I wish Kickstarter would issue a notice to people that, as David mentioned, Kickstarter is not a store. These things happen, Albert & Wong, you took a risk in funding this. Please don't back anything on Kickstarter in the future if you are not assuming risk and possible loss. Entrepreneurs come here to launch their ideas and dreams: something very, very hard to do. I'm stoked I got to be a part of the funding process for these guys. Knowing when to pull the plug is just as important as knowing when to keep marching.

    12. David on

      first of all, kickstarter is not a store. you don't owe anyone a refund. i supported like 60$ just to see the streets lined with glowing trees. sorry this endevor was a failure i was realy rooting for.

    13. Bill Gimbel

      I have backed a ton of projects on Kickstarter and this is only the second complete failure. These things happen - you gave it your best shot, and now it is over.

      Thank you for the attempt!

      -- Bill

    14. Missing avatar

      Disillusioned Backer on

      Yet more excuses.

      Sell everything on eBay and give us back a few cents on the dollar and go work at McDonald's.

    15. Yulan Wilson on

      I've been burned several times by pipe dream Kickstarter projects and will simply say after four years of waiting I want my money back. Keep your moss and anything else you want to pump out to us and give me my money back.

    16. Zack Johnson on

      Thank you for the effort! Creating new things at scale is really hard and everyone should try it to see how really complex our world is.

    17. Missing avatar

      Denny Guhl on

      Spread yourselves too thin and didn't follow through on the basic promise. I'm not surprised. Long ago the updates started seeming like a combination of smoke screen and getting so far off the original goal that it was never going to happen. From a business perspective, focus on delivery and don't spread yourselves thin like you did. I had money to put into the other "projects", but the basic promise was never realized. Best of luck.

    18. Josh Wright & June Lai on

      Oh well... Disappointed for sure, but no hard feelings. Honestly I love glowing anything. So much so that we just launched a bunch of glow in the dark versions of our products. I hope someday I get to have one of your glowing plants too. Best of luck.

    19. Eric McCormick on

      Sorry to see this come to an end. I am looking forward to getting​ some moss.
      Do you think this might be worked on in the future at some point?

    20. Antony Evans Creator on

      Sergio: Thanks for your comment, a few responses. 1) Scientists, ie Kyle, were involved in the leadership from the beginning and he developed the whole approach 2) We did test the control you mention with Agrobacteria, the results showing the construct glowed were presented in update 54 ( It tooks us years to actually build that construct given it's size, which was a major hurdle we had to overcome 3) thanks for the feedback on the link above, I've now changed it.

    21. Missing avatar

      Sergio Botero on

      I agree entirely @Liam Russell and @David Jacobitz. It is truly disrespectful to abandon the project and try to spin it off as a win for backers to be able to buy another of your products.
      As a biologist myself I understand the complexities of getting the Lux system working, but the fact that after 4 years you were unable to even get all the genes in the same cell shows terrible planning, even just with Agrobacterium that should have been one of the first controls before constructing the actual plant. You shouldn't be wondering if all genes together would be toxic, you should have found out way before you attempted to make the plant as one of the first steps. Introducing luciferase and adding luciferin, as you did initially, is a great publicity stunt but completely irrelevant when it comes to figuring out if the Lux system would work, and had already been done decades ago. In retrospect it is not surprising part of the scientific team abandoned the company midway, with the poor planning and a leadership approach focused on PR and additional investment without proper scientific rigor any good scientist would leave.
      The fact that the link to "invest today" is still on this page is even more offensive. I had hoped this case would be different but it's clearly in the over-hyped biotech category along with Theranos blood testing.

    22. Alex Barnett on

      To be honest, I had completely forgotten about this project. I'm sorry to see that yet another promising project funded by Kickstarter has failed.

    23. Sarah Scrivano on

      I'm sorry that this didn't turn out! The idea was fantastic however, and I want to know how much credit I would get toward the fragrant moss and how would I redeem that?

    24. Missing avatar

      Dexter Andrada on

      Four years already?! Time flies, and thanks for your commitment on this. My four kids interest in science spiked coz of the war stories that I shared to them when you started this mission.

      Thanks for making a dent in synthetic biology. I'm sure this milestones that you have made will be felt in this field of science

      On a personal note, we are still rooting for you. And please don't forget us backers in your journey

    25. Missing avatar

      hereward on

      Thank you so much guys for your hard work. I invested in the idea, not the product, the idea is still alive and you worked admirably towards its realization. I know you all tried super hard and your updates were fantastic! You have provided inspiration and great spirit! All the best wishes for the future!

    26. Bernard Kornberg on

      Man, I spent four years hoping against hope this would work out. I appreciate the regular updates and know that no one is more upset than you. Hopefully you'll be able to revisit this in the future. Make sure to let all of us plant backers know how to buy the moss when its commercially available.

    27. Peter Tierney on

      Kickstarter is for dreamers, and this was one of my favorite dreams. I'm glad to have been part of it, though sad it will not come to fruition. I had a place in my front yard picked out for that glowing rose bush! But no hard feelings, at all! Instead, appreciation and admiration for the 4 years of hard work that you put into the project. I learned a lot from the updates, almost as if I paid for a semester of botanical engineering at the local university!

      When you're ready and the science is there, kickstart another round and I'll be there.

    28. Missing avatar

      Ryan Droege on

      Thank you for years of hard work. It was quite fun to support you and read the updates along the way. I have backed numerous KS projects that failed to meet their goal and in every other one the project creator hid from supporters and stopped responding at all, normally with in months of things going bad. 4 years of dedication and updates from you and your team go well above what I have come to expect from KS projects. Thanks again and best of luck with the moss and future projects.

    29. Missing avatar

      Liam Russell on

      I agree with @David Jacobitz.

      If you truly feel that you have a responsibility to "investors" than why do you feel you are free from responsibility to your kickstarter backers?

      While kickstarter isn't a platform for angel investing the backers here certaintly made sure your company was funded well before any "equity inverstors" decided to jump on the bandwagon.

      I understand the failure and I'm definitely used t it by now with kickstarter projects but your reasoning for abandoning the backers is unethical to say the least.

      It seems the main reason we are left with nothing while you still try to get your "equity investors" something is that they are more likely to win a lawsuit against you...

      Also, offering "discount credits" on the fragrant moss you are selling as a replacement for our rewards to try and satisfy your "equity investors" is quite insulting.

      Not only are you telling us we don't matter but you also expect us to then go and buy the fragrant moss so that your "equity investors" get what they're expecting from you.

      A failed kickstarter isn't surprising but seeing such a blatant disregard for your backers is upsetting.

    30. Missing avatar

      David Jacobitz on

      So, I get that you are (were) doing bleeding-edge research, and the road can be rocky. I can't fault your efforts.

      However, when you say "As we’ve indicated in a previous update we have spent way more than the kickstarter funds on the project so we cannot offer refunds", with the explanation "we have a responsibility to our equity investors to bring revenue in as soon as possible", that doesn't sit well. If your equity investors weren't aware of your other commitments, it seems like that's on them, isn't it? Their potential upside was always much higher than backers' - why should their risk be lower?

    31. Missing avatar

      Sarah Doxiadis on

      Hey, no worries. Hope the fragrant moss begins shipping, and then you can recoup some of your losses to move forward. I am def. interested in credit toward buying some of the fragrant moss, even if it's not dollar for dollar. You've worked hard and kept us updated, which has maintained trust and interest. Best of luck to you all!

    32. Kris Culotta on

      Just wanted to leave a comment here as a backer, and thank you for all the hard work and updates on this whole project. I look forward to your future efforts, and wish you all the best in it. The cutting edge of science is often unforgiving.....and on occasion, massively rewarding. Good luck!

    33. okor on

      No hard feelings here. Disappointment sure but more for your team and the project mission than anything.

      I, for one, would like to propose a second round of fund raising. This is an AMAZING, sci-fi, dreamy project. I would love to see this project succeed.

      Even it's a hail mary, why not shoot for 1 or 2 million? Extend the runway. Renew enthusiasm. And maybe bring in some new folks to work on the project, a fresh perspective.

    34. Sean Houlihane on

      Thanks for the detailed update. As an EU resident, I was never expecting any tangible rewards, so I still see this project as a little bit of a success.

    35. Tomas on

      I only backed the project because I was sure it was impossibly ambitious, but it's been fun seeing how hard you guys have worked at it for so long. This is the only kickstarter that I've backed which hasn't delivered, but at the same time, I wouldn't say it failed by a long shot. Best of luck in your future endeavours!

    36. Steven R Black II on

      As the moss business builds, will you return to this project?

      I'm willing to wait it out for the long haul.

      Also, I'm a DiY backer and will still look forward to that reward.

      The money that I spent on this is long out of my budget, and any afterthoughts of making money from the sales of my own plants went away long ago.

      However, I would like to see updates on the moss and other bioprojects that this kickstarter leads you to - and any potential for a return to this when the moss business affords it to.

    37. lupusdraconis on

      You had a very lofty goal, and sometimes things just don't go how you planned. I'm still glad I backed. And just because a goal is lofty doesn't mean it's unattainable. You've done a lot and had a lot of hurdles, trying your damnedest, learning as you went, and keeping us informed as you did. That is to be respected. Thank you for your work.

      I would happily support another project towards glowing places should you all choose to pursue that.

    38. Missing avatar

      James on

      I can't believe it's been four years since I funded this campaign, and yet I feel nothing but hope and gratitude for you and your team's efforts.

      There have been long strides that this project and this company has made, and my remaining hope is that this research might be freely available to all so that others may learn from this and further along and evolve this team's vision.

      Amazing work so far during these past four years!

    39. David Wild on

      4 years, man does time fly. I certainly have no regrets for funding this.
      Is there any option to get seeds or any of the other rewards if we put up money for shipping and such?

    40. gaahrdner on

      Sad news; so as an early backer, what, if anything, will I be receiving? Sounds like I'll have to revisit my plan of glowing plants bordering my walkway.

    41. Michael Valera on

      Honestly just for the amazing research into the generic alteration science you guys have been doing my money had been well spent and i would happily do it again if asked. Please don't lose hope and continue doing the amazing work you've been devoting your time and energy into.

    42. Missing avatar

      Steven Mitchell on

      No one could say it was for a lack of effort, you guys clearly gave it your all. Sometimes science just doesn't cooperate. Thank-you for allowing us to participate in such an inspirational endeavor. Good luck with whatever comes next, failure is the road to success.

    43. Missing avatar

      david popovich on

      I understand the risk and the challenge that you faced, but I do find it irresponsible for you to not have had even something token for the backers. A nice print out of the last attempted DNA in a stylalized manor would be a nice keepsake for backing such an awesome endeavour.

    44. Missing avatar

      lucas costa on

      No regrets on backing you all. Just a little curious if we will be getting the mess instead of seeds?

    45. Nathanael Pine on

      I 've enjoyed the ride and it has certainly been worth the small amount of money that I invested. Good luck with the moss. Remember what Newton said: "If I have seen further than others, it us because I have stood on the shoulders of giants. " You are those shoulders.
      Take care,
      Nat Pine

    46. Wilson Wong on

      Are you guys still working on the kit design? I'm stationed in SF so I can come pick it up maybe when it's complete...
      o-o I was under the impression that the kit was for the most part complete but it was the gene gun had trouble getting the entire gene in.

    47. Brian Russo on

      I would consider backing an additional campaign. Honestly I think in retrospect it was ambitious; but wasn't that the point? I think most of us who supported this understood that. I don't really see this project as a failure. You've done an admirable job of informing us along the way; I don't see this is as the type of failure where you guys screwed up or you took our money and ran or anything like that. It was a moon shot and you landed a bit short. It happens.

      If you still have the emotional energy; I'd say launch another kickstarter/indiegogo/whatever. There have been changes in crowdfunded equity backing for small-scale investors so I'd say look at that also. Personally I'd be interested.

      If you end up shutting down completely, my only asker would be you open source what results you can.

    48. Missing avatar

      S. Sanchez on

      A disappointing end but I've always appreciated the updates when they came into my inbox. It would be nice if you maintain contact with us backers about future updates to this project in case there is ever a success. Maybe offer a bonus for being early backers.

      Looking forward to one day reading a book by plant-light.

    49. Missing avatar

      Eric Clifford on

      You should consider another campaign, even if you move over to the other crowd site... or as others have mentioned a Patreon funding setup maybe? OR you think even given another large chunk of funding, its not going to pan out for the glowing side of things?