Light-sensitive E. coli paint a colourful picture

May 24, 2017

By Adam Levy

To show off the powers of synthetic biology, researchers have engineered a primitive kind of colour vision into bacteria — and got the microbes to paint pictures of what they see.

The genetically modified Escherichia coli can sense red, green and blue (RGB) light, and they respond by producing a pigment of the corresponding colour. Projecting light on to a Petri dish of the bacteria leads them to create colour ‘photographs’, albeit ones with an exposure time of 18 hours.

The RGB-sensitive E. coli make up a toy system that is a stepping stone to more complex biological programming, says Christopher Voigt, who led the study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and has pictures from the experiment hanging on his office wall. The work is published in Nature Chemical Biology1.

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