This Living Necklace Glows With Bioluminescent Algae

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  • Author: Liz Stinson. Liz Stinson Design
  • Date of Publication: 04.06.16. 04.06.16
  • Time of Publication: 9:00 am. 9:00 am

This Living Necklace Glows With Bioluminescent Algae

Slide: 1 / of 4 . Caption: Caption: Bompas & Parr created a new line of jewelry that glows with bioluminescent algae. Bompas & Parr

Slide: 2 / of 4 . Caption: Caption: The algae and water are housed inside a glass pendant.Bompas & Parr

Slide: 3 / of 4 . Caption: Bompas & Parr

Slide: 4 / of 4 . Caption: Caption: When gently shaken the algae begins to glow with a neon blue hue.Bompas & Parr

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Slide: 1 / of 4 Caption: Caption: Bompas & Parr created a new line of jewelry that glows with bioluminescent algae. Bompas & Parr
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Slide: 2 / of 4 Caption: Caption: The algae and water are housed inside a glass pendant.Bompas & Parr
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Slide: 3 / of 4 Caption: Bompas & Parr
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Slide: 4 / of 4 Caption: Caption: When gently shaken the algae begins to glow with a neon blue hue.Bompas & Parr
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Humans have been wearing living jewelry for centuries. Most famously, the Mayans would encrust Maquech beetles with gold and gemstones and tether them to their chests via a gold chain, like a crawling brooch. The tradition lived on, and some variation of the same practice was replicated by Britain’s high society in the 19th century. Today, much to the chagrin of animal rights activists, you can still find living jewelry being sold around the world.

Sam Bompas and Harry Parr of the experimental culinary team of Bompas & Parr also make living jewelry, technically speaking. Though theirs doesn’t crawl. The duo teamed up with London jewelry-design studio Goldie Rox and scientist Simon Park to create a new kind of living jewelry called The Mermaid Lunchbox. The pendant necklace features a rounded glass vial that dangles from a gold chain. Inside the vial is water and a bloom of dinoflagellates, also known as bioluminescent algae. Give the necklace a little shake, and the orb gives off a bright blue light.

If you’ve ever seen an ocean tide glow alien blue at night, you’ve seen dinoflagellates in the wild. It’s thought that the organisms use bioluminescence as a defense mechanism, emitting a neon blue hue as a way to ward off approaching predators. But you can elicit a similar response by wearing them around your neck. “Just moving normally you’ll get little kicks of fluorescence,” Bompas explains. The sparks of blue last just a couple seconds, though he says the algae is capable of many illuminations per night.

Bompas and Parr worked with Park, a professor of molecular biology at Surrey University in the UK, to create a culture of the algae, which is then inserted into a wearable vial. The algae inside the pendant “recharges” during the day through photosynthesis, and then glows at night. Bompas says that each necklace comes with detailed instructions on how to care for the organism. “Remember you have to feed it like a plant,” he says. Each algae bloom lasts around three weeks under ideal conditions, and Bompas & Parr will send refills as the bloom loses its glow.

In terms of synthetic biology, Bompas says it’s about as vanilla as it gets. “If we can get a more powerful GM [genetically modified] strain with a more powerful glow, you know we’ll be there,” he says. “But we haven’t tracked it down.” Still, the necklace will cost you around $2,800. Not cheap, but Bompas puts it into perspective, “When you think about it, you’ve got a whole little world, a whole little cosmos in there.”

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