November 29, 2005

Smile! You're on candid bacteria!

While E. coli bacteria usually just give people food poisoning, scientists have found a way to use a modified form of the same bacteria to make a unique photographic film. Using genetic engineering, researchers at UC San Francisco have moved genes from a green algae into E. coli cells, creating a light-sensitive variety of the bacteria.

The FSM via bacteria

The researchers used the living film to create an image of the "flying spaghetti monster", which features in an online satirical critique of the intention of the Kansas school board to teach intelligent design in schools [Image: Chris Voight]

When put into a dense bed, the modified E. coli acts as a 'living camera,' taking extremely high-res photos [150 megapixels per square inch]. However, the bacteria must be exposed to light for four hours to make a picture, and it will currently work only under red light.

While the "living camera" isn't going to make waves in the photographic world, its creation is far from an idle exercise:

[Researcher Chris] Voigt's team saw it as an exercise in advanced genetic engineering. But their success in getting an array of bacteria to respond to light could lead to the development of "nano-factories" in which minuscule amounts of substances are produced at locations precisely defined by light beams.

For instance, the gene switch need not activate a pigment, says Voigt. A different introduced gene could produce polymer-like proteins, or even precipitate a metal. "This way, the bacteria could weave a complex material," he says.

You can read more about the 'living camera' here.

Via New Scientist.

Posted by Magpie at November 29, 2005 01:16 PM | Science | Technorati links |