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Bacterial Cameras and the Fabrication Future
Jamais Cascio, 23 Nov 05

It may need four hours to take a picture, and even then only create monochrome images, but the bacterial camera made by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, could be pretty important.

Chris Voigt and his team hacked the genome of E. coli, the common food-poisoning gut microbe, to make it sensitive to light by adding sequences from photosynthesizing algae. When activated by light, the new genes can shut off the action of another gene, in this case one controlling the color of the bacteria. A sufficiently large mass of E. coli can then be used to "print" images. Because the "pixels" are bacteria, the resolution is astounding -- over one hundred megapixels per inch.

The goal of the experiment wasn't to produce a slow, massively high resolution black & white camera, however; the goal was to demonstrate the use of light sensitivity as a control for other bacterial functions.

...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. [...]
As a method of nano-manufacturing, the biocamera is an "extremely exciting advance" says Harry Kroto, the Nobel prize-winning discoverer of buckminsterfullerene, or buckyballs. "I have always thought that the first major nanotechnology advances would involve some sort of chemical modification of biology."

This bio-photolithography would be a good way of using microbes to construct macro-scale structures without having to develop complex chemical signalling mechanisms.

The image chosen for the experiment, in case you don't recognize it, is the Flying Spaghetti Monster -- and clearly this work has been touched by its noodly appendages.

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Only a few days ago WC talked about using diatom shells for micromachine parts and now, this. Perhaps these two areas can be combined?

It seems like hardly a month passes where we don't learn a new way to manipulate microbes into building structures for us. Biology and bio-mimicry are definitely ways to accelerate progress in MEMS development. I can only guess what new devices will come out of this.

Posted by: Pace Arko on 23 Nov 05

If you find any new devices as a result please post them would be very interesting to see what other have come up with!

Posted by: Ashley Bowers on 23 Nov 05

That is, well, extremely cool. Imagine using this to produce microchips - you could make it from a huge-scale centralised industry to micro-production. With that and your 3D printer, all you need are open-source designs..Free Hardware Foundation, anyone.

It will certainly be an interesting world when a backyard workshop can make surface-to-air missiles, though..

Posted by: Alex on 24 Nov 05

Agreed. There are an emerging set of issues that are in need of discussion.

Posted by: csven on 24 Nov 05

Hello, Worldchanging -- where's the biodiesel news story?

Posted by: Sanjay on 25 Nov 05



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