UC Berkeley has been looking into the idea of making solar cells out of tobacco plants. The researchers are using a genetically engineered virus to mutate the cells of the tobacco plants. They are using this virus not to mutate the cells as the plant grows, but rather directly on the full grown plants. The virus creates “artificial chromatophores” that they can then harvest from the plants and dissolve in liquid. This solution can then be applied to plastic or glass, making a solar cell.
The articles say that not only is this a viable option for the development of new ways of solar energy gathering, but it can also e very good for the hard hit farming industry. The new cells will not be as long-lasting as traditional solar panels, but could be less expensive. The farmers would benefit, as would the energy sector.
The benefits of the technology are being touted as a lack of environmentally toxic chemicals. Unfortunately, the development is not so far as to make electricity yet. We shall see.