Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Student scientists create living bacterial photographs

24.11.2005


Using Petri dishes full of genetically engineered E. coli instead of photo paper, students at The University of Texas at Austin and UCSF successfully created the first-ever bacterial photographs.



Their work is published in this week’s issue of Nature (Nov. 24, 2005), which is devoted entirely to the emerging field of synthetic biology.

The students produced the innovative bacterial images and a bacterial camera as part of MIT’s intercollegiate Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition, which encourages students to build simple biological machines.


"The goal of the contest was to build bacteria that could do very simple computing," says Dr. Edward Marcotte, one of the students’ faculty advisers and associate professor of biochemistry at The University of Texas at Austin. "This is a great example of the emergent field of synthetic biology--using principles of engineering in biology."

"We’re making bacteria that are all independently functioning computers and we can get them to do large-scale, complex computations like make images or create circuits," says Jeff Tabor, a doctoral student at the Institute for Cell and Molecular Biology in Austin.

The students produced ghostlike, living photos of many things, including themselves, their advisers and The University of Texas Tower.

The bacterial photos were created by projecting light on "biological film"--billions of genetically engineered E. coli growing in dishes of agar, a standard jello-like growth medium for bacteria.

Like pixels on a computer screen switching between white and black, each bacterium either produced black pigment or didn’t, based on whether it was growing in a light or dark place in the dish. The resulting images are a collection of all the bacteria responding to the pattern of light.

E. coli are found naturally in the dark confines of the human gut and wouldn’t normally sense light, so the students had to engineer the unicellular machines to work as a photo-capturing surface.

UCSF biophysics graduate student Anselm Levskaya and his adviser, Dr. Chris Voigt, first engineered the bacteria to sense light by adding a light receptor protein from a photosynthetic blue-green algae to the E. coli cell surface. They hooked the light receptor up to a sensor in E. coli that normally senses salt concentration. Instead of sensing salt, the bacteria could sense light.

The light receptor was then connected to a system in the bacteria that makes pigments. When light strikes the new receptor, it turns off a gene that ultimately controls the production of a colored compound in the bacteria.

The Texas students, including Tabor and Aaron Chevalier, realized that after optimizing the pigments and agar growth media, these bacteria could be used to convert light images shined onto the bacteria into biochemical prints. To create the photographs, the Texas students used a unique light projector largely designed and built by Chevalier, a physics undergraduate.

The device projects the pattern of light--like an image of one of the Texas students’ co-advisers, Dr. Andy "Escherichia" Ellington--onto the dish of bacteria growing at body temperature in an incubator. After about 12-15 hours of exposure (the time it takes for a bacterial population to grow and fill the Petri dish), the light projector is removed.

What’s left is a living photograph.

Bacteria in the lighted regions of the Petri dish don’t produce the pigment and appear light. Those in the dark regions produce pigment and appear dark.

The biological technologies these students are building could be applied in a variety of ways beyond making photos, says Marcotte. For example, he says the techniques could one day be used to build different tissues based on patterns of light or make bacteria that can produce structures useful in medical treatments.

The students are already busy on their next innovation--bacteria that can find and create a line around the edges of an image, a process that requires the bacteria to communicate with each other.

They’re also working on experiments using a laser to turn on and off single cells, which would give them great control.

"If we can hit the cell with a laser, we can manipulate their biology without needles or syringes," says Tabor. "We just turn it on or off with light."

Other students and researchers who participated in the project were Laura Lavery, Zachary Booth Simpson, Matthew Levy, Eric Davidson and Alexander Scouras. Faculty advisers were Ellington and Marcotte at The University of Texas at Austin and Voigt at UCSF.

Edward Marcotte | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.icmb.utexas.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Molecular evolution: How the building blocks of life may form in space
26.04.2018 | American Institute of Physics

nachricht Multifunctional bacterial microswimmer able to deliver cargo and destroy itself
26.04.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Intelligente Systeme

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Why we need erasable MRI scans

New technology could allow an MRI contrast agent to 'blink off,' helping doctors diagnose disease

Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, is a widely used medical tool for taking pictures of the insides of our body. One way to make MRI scans easier to read is...

Im Focus: BAM@Hannover Messe: innovative 3D printing method for space flight

At the Hannover Messe 2018, the Bundesanstalt für Materialforschung und-prüfung (BAM) will show how, in the future, astronauts could produce their own tools or spare parts in zero gravity using 3D printing. This will reduce, weight and transport costs for space missions. Visitors can experience the innovative additive manufacturing process live at the fair.

Powder-based additive manufacturing in zero gravity is the name of the project in which a component is produced by applying metallic powder layers and then...

Im Focus: Molecules Brilliantly Illuminated

Physicists at the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics, which is jointly run by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, have developed a high-power laser system that generates ultrashort pulses of light covering a large share of the mid-infrared spectrum. The researchers envisage a wide range of applications for the technology – in the early diagnosis of cancer, for instance.

Molecules are the building blocks of life. Like all other organisms, we are made of them. They control our biorhythm, and they can also reflect our state of...

Im Focus: Spider silk key to new bone-fixing composite

University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.

Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.

Im Focus: Writing and deleting magnets with lasers

Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.

Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

IWOLIA: A conference bringing together German Industrie 4.0 and French Industrie du Futur

09.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

World's smallest optical implantable biodevice

26.04.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Molecular evolution: How the building blocks of life may form in space

26.04.2018 | Life Sciences

First Li-Fi-product with technology from Fraunhofer HHI launched in Japan

26.04.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>