As more people wise up and stop smoking, there is less call for heavily-subsidized tobacco plants, so researchers are looking for new ways to use this plant. Besides biofuel, they may make natural spray-on solar panels.

Researcher Matt Francis genetically engineered bacteria to produce photo cells that absorb sunlight. In Discovery News, Eric Bland quotes Francis as saying, “We are trying to mimic these finely tuned systems using the tobacco mosaic virus.” These cells are then programmed to grow on tobacco plants. To create the solar spray, scientists need to harvest the tobacco plants, chop them up, and then extract the tiny cells, which are then dissolved in liquid solution. After that, they are sprayed over a glass or plastic and laid out in a field or on a roof, wherever electricity is needed. They wouldn’t last as long as the average silicon solar cell, but they would be a cheap, transportable, temporary biodegradable power source that could be useful for running farm equipment.

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