Bacteria have been long regarded as something, only capable of giving rise to infections and diseases. The misconception might soon change. Thanks to the fervent efforts of students from The University of Texas at Austin and UCSF who have created the first-ever bacterial photographs.
An intercollegiate Genetically Engineering Machine (iGEM) competition aimed at promoting the construction of simple biological machines is what prompted these young minds to produce bacterial images and a bacterial camera.
The E. coli bacteria are normally found in the intestines of a human being that is devoid of light. The researchers first step was to devise a method of making the bacteria sense light. This was done by adding a light receptor protein (derived from blue-green algae) to a sensor normally present on the bacterial cell surface for determination of salt concentration.
This light receptor system was then designed to communicate with a pigment control system. Once light was sensed by the receptor, it inactivated certain genes and enabled the production of colored compounds by the bacteria.
After optimization of the growth conditions was achieved, the bacteria either produced a black pigment or did not, depending on the availability of light. This enabled the bacteria to convert light images shined onto them into biochemical prints. Culturing billions of genetically engineered bacteria hence produced a biological film. A unique light projector was used for creating the photographs, which had a ghost like appearance.
The current achievement has more clinical implications than what is foreseen at the moment. It can even be used to build different tissues based on patterns of light or make bacteria that can produce structures useful in medical treatments.
Researchers are already trying to manipulate these tiny microorganisms into independent functional computers. Perhaps, who knows some day, we might even have our desktop crowed with a bacterial computing system. With such innovations rocking the world, we might expect more from the field of bioengineering in the years to come.