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Saturday, November 26, 2005 

More microbial tools

I mentioned a real "microbial machine" in this post last month. Now, they're appearing as living photographs:
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco and the University of Texas announced in the journal Nature that they had created photographs of themselves by programming the bacteria — — best known for outbreaks of food poisoning — to make pictures in much the same way Kodak film produces images.

***

Voigt and colleagues took from algae light-sensitive genes that emit black compounds and spliced them into a batch of E. coli bacteria. The organisms were then spread on a petri dish that resembles a cookie sheet and placed in an incubator. A high-powered projector cast photographic images of the researchers through a hole on top of the incubator, exposing some of the bacteria to light.

The result: Ghostly images like traditional black-and-white photographs of the researchers responsible for the invention, at a resolution Voigt said was about 100 megapixels, or 10 times sharper than high-end printers.
Nature paper (vol 438, 441-442):

Synthetic biology: Engineering Escherichia coli to see light

Anselm Levskaya1, Aaron A. Chevalier, Jeffrey J. Tabor, Zachary Booth Simpson, Laura A. Lavery, Matthew Levy, Eric A. Davidson, Alexander Scouras, Andrew D. Ellington, Edward M. Marcotte and Christopher A. Voigt

Abstract:We have designed a bacterial system that is switched between different states by red light. The system consists of a synthetic sensor kinase that allows a lawn of bacteria to function as a biological film, such that the projection of a pattern of light on to the bacteria produces a high-definition (about 100 megapixels per square inch), two-dimensional chemical image. This spatial control of bacterial gene expression could be used to 'print' complex biological materials, for example, and to investigate signalling pathways through precise spatial and temporal control of their phosphorylation steps.
Very cool stuff. The MSNBC article discusses a bit of the ethics behind it (the ubiquitous "bioterrorism applications" and such), but those fears have been applied to essentially every advance in technology probably since fire. ("Put it out, Snog! That may be used against us someday!")

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About me

  • I'm Tara C. Smith
  • From Iowa, United States
  • I'm a mom and a scientist, your basic stressed-out, wanna-have-it-all-and-do-it-all Gen Xer. Recently transplanted from Ohio to Iowa, I've spent most of my life in the midwest (with 4 years of college spent out east in "soda" territory). My main interest, and the subject of my research, is infectious disease: how does the microbe cause illness? What makes one strain nasty, and another "avirulent?" Are the latter really not causing any disease, or could some of those be possible for the development of chronic disease years down the road? Additionally, I've spent a lot of time discussing the value of teaching evolution, and educating others about "intelligent design" and other forms of creationism. My interest in history of science and medicine is also useful as a way to tie all of the above interests together. [Disclaimer: the views here are solely my own, and do not represent my employer, my spouse, that guy who's always sitting by the fountain when I come into work, or anyone else with whom I may be remotely affiliated.]
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