glowing octopus

Image of glowing sucker octopus courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Vampyroteuthis

Octopuses might be charismatic, but not many can literally light up a room.

One enterprising designer, however, has figured out how to repurpose bacteria from rare glowing deep-sea octopuses for terrestrial illumination. In the form of a stylish lamp—that requires no electricity. [See video below.]

Inspired by glowing, bioluminescent waves, graduate student Teresa van Dongen, of the Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands sought to bring that mechanism indoors.

And in her quest, she found the octopus.

Most all octopuses can change color and even reflectivity, but not many species are truly bioluminescent, meaning that, like fireflies, they can give off light. In the octopus's case, such light comes from specially evolved bacteria that live on them.

Working with graduate students at the Life Science and Technology school at Delft University of Technology who isolated the glowing octopus bacteria Photobacterium, van Dongen was able to start integrating the living organisms into a usable design.

For the lamp, the bacteria are contained in a long glass tube "half-filled with an 'Artificial Seawater Medium,'" van Dongen explains on her website. Activated by movement, the bacteria need no electricity to go aglow. Instead, the lamp, which hangs like a mobile, features two weights that, given the occasional push, will keep the lamp in motion—and the bacteria illuminating.

The catch is that the bacteria can live only so long in this isolated environment. Currently, the lamp works for only a few days, reported Co.Design.

Van Dongen, who previously studied biology at the University of Amsterdam, does not describe which octopus provided the bacteria. But one of the few species of octopuses known to have bioluminescence is the glowing sucker octopus (Stauroteuthis syrtensis, pictured above), which lives in the dark, deep northern Atlantic Ocean, from 500 to 4,000 meters below the surface.

The lamp, called the Ambio, is currently a single design piece meant as "a visualization of research on how to use nature as a source of energy," van Dongan notes on her website

She does, however, report that her colleagues at Delft University of Technology are "currently [at] work on prolonging the lifespan of the [bacteria] population for a possible next generation of Ambio."

"I aim to simplify the design and create a living lamp for the home that needs as little care as, for instance, a regular houseplant," she told Co.Design.

Seems like a bright idea.

Ambio, bacterial lamp by Teresa van Dongen from Teresa van Dongen on Vimeo.

Learn more about how octopuses are inspiring weird new technology in Octopus! The Most Mysterious Creature In the Sea.

Illustration courtesy of Ivan Phillipsen