While other people create pictures with ink and pigment, these scientists create pictures with blind E.coli bacteria.
Escherichia coli is a group of bacteria that we may know as something that can make us sick. These bacteria can cause diarrhea and a number of different infections. However, some bacteria in this group are harmless. What we may not know is that these bacteria can also be the medium with which we can make art.
All it takes are some gut bacteria, genetic engineering skills, colored light, and bacterial film. These aren't the kind of art materials people usually use to create images, but art always has room for more than a little resourcefulness. This time, it may also have room for a little more science than usual.
The E.coli bacteria in this project were blind. Thus, the researchers for the project engineered some vision into the bacteria. They also inserted 18 new genes that respond to light into the bacteria. Genetic modification enabled these bacteria to be able to sense red, green, and blue light. As a response, the bacteria produced pigment that corresponds to the color of the light.
The genetic modification worked like a domino effect of reactions. Three of the 18 new genes encode for proteins that enable light sensitivity. Light would activate the genes, the genes would send signal to the other new genes, and would then produce the pigment.
Each of the three genes react to each of the three colors of light. Red light activates a hybrid kinase gene, green light activates a gene taken from cyanobacterium, and blue light activates another hybrid kinase gene.
However, this process isn't like taking a photo. It can take up to 18 hours for an image to appear. The researchers would project a colorful image into a colony of bacteria in a petri dish, then wait for the image to appear. The E.coli would begin the process of mimicking the color of light projected onto them. After 18 hours, the image would stay on the petri dish even after the projected image is gone.
The E.coli were able to create a variety of images. They were able to form an image of Mario (yes, from the video game) and a pattern of made of lizard images. They were also able to create an image of a collection of fruit, which is a staple in all beginners' art classes.
Of course, this modification of bacteria doesn't begin and end at just creating images. As a result of the study, the researchers found that scientists may be able to manipulate bacteria through the use of light. By flashing lights of different colors, scientists may be able to turn certain genes on and off. Thus, the bacteria can produce certain proteins on demand.
E.coli bacteria therefore don't just make us sick. They can also create quite accurate copies of images, of course with the help of a little genetic engineering. This research has given scientists a newer—and cheaper—way to manipulate bacteria for a variety of purposes.
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