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In contrast to fluorescent proteins, light emission from luciferase reporters requires exogenous addition of a luciferin substrate. Bacterial bioluminescence has been the single exception, where an operon of five genes is sufficient to produce light autonomously. Although commonly used in prokaryotic hosts, toxicity of the aldehyde substrate has limited its use in eukaryotes. Here we demonstrate autonomous luminescence in a multicellular eukaryotic organism by incorporating a recently discovered fungal bioluminescent system into tobacco plants. We monitored these light-emitting plants from germination to flowering, observing temporal and spatial patterns of luminescence across time scales from seconds to months. The dynamic patterns of luminescence reflected progression through developmental stages, circadian oscillations, transport, and response to injuries. As with other fluorescent and luminescent reporters, we anticipate that this system will be further engineered for varied purposes, especially where exogenous addition of substrate is undesirable.

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