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Science Technology

Living Photos Use Bacteria as Pixels 156

BrainBlogger writes "Scientists at UC San Francisco have engineered bacteria to create living photographs that weigh in at 100 megapixels per square inch. The photos were created by projecting light on "biological film" -- billions of genetically engineered E. coli growing in dishes of agar."
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Living Photos Use Bacteria as Pixels

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  • Students discovery? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dada21 (163177) * <> on Wednesday November 23, 2005 @04:47PM (#14103726) Homepage Journal
    Obligatory Coral Cache Link []

    Pretty detailed tiny image of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. How many noodly appendage comments will we see?

    With the growing number of sequenced microbes, we can search through nature's large trove of tools to find ones that fit the job," Levskaya said. "In our case, searching for light-sensing domains led us to use a photosynthetic bacterium." The students produced ghostlike, living photos of many things, including themselves and their advisors

    I wonder how far they are from being able to take a huge image of a processor chip pathway and use these microbes to lay out an eating path for another microbe to create cheaper chips. I'm guessing it isn't realistic in the near future, but as the progression builds towards more "consistent" bacteria, maybe we'll see more aggressive use of these discoveries for profitable reasons.

    That's my biggest question -- is anyone seeing private R&D scientists investing time and money in engineered bacteria that will be protected by patents or other IP protections? It's pretty amazing that TFA's discovery was by students.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      It's not that amazing to see discoveries come from students in Academia.

      I would be more amazed to see a company develop something like this. These days, it seems bio-business works by putting a protection of patents around academic discoveries.

    • It's pretty amazing that TFA's discovery

      Its more engineering a feature than discovering a feature
    • In the 60s or 70s someone did something similar using photosynthesis on regular leaves. The bacteria are probably better (finer grained and faster).
    • by ottffssent (18387)
      These bacteria are way too big to be of any use in modern photolithography. Assuming each one's square, and there's 1 per pixel, each bacterium takes up an area of about 6.5 square microns (1 100-millionth of a square inch). For comparison, the smallest production SRAM cell I can find is .25 square microns, and contains 6 transistors. That makes these bacteria 150x as big as a transistor, and even larger when compared to the features that make up the transistors and connect them together.

      Now, in situatio
    • It's pretty amazing that TFA's discovery was by students.

      Actually, that's pretty normal in graduate school. Professors have the breadth and depth of understanding that allows them to select promising projects and to know which have the greatest current value. (i.e., they know how to select a project that's currently important / interesting with a good likelihood of getting grant funding.) This also allows them to direct a large group of graduate students. But generally, once the graduate students receiv

  • by roman_mir (125474) on Wednesday November 23, 2005 @04:48PM (#14103742) Homepage Journal
    Living Photos Use Bacteria as Pixels ...
    Nothing for you to see here. Please move along.
    Can't see nothing with those bacteria sized pixels!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 23, 2005 @04:52PM (#14103765)
    That bacteria has every much of a right to life as you! Boycott anti-bacteria soap and walking!

    Who do some people think they are--the pinnacle of creation, or something?
  • Hmmm. (Score:5, Funny)

    by cocoamix (560647) on Wednesday November 23, 2005 @04:52PM (#14103771)
    So that's what an intelligently designed life-form looks like.
    • It can't be coincidence that the picture produced by these intelligently-designed life-forms is that of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. They are obviously indicating who is the Great Intelligent Designer of the human race!
  • Mmm. (Score:5, Funny)

    by dslauson (914147) on Wednesday November 23, 2005 @04:53PM (#14103775) Journal
    Who wants to be the first to flip through my E.coli scrapbook?
  • by TeaQuaffer (809857) on Wednesday November 23, 2005 @04:53PM (#14103778)
    To wash your hands and don't touch your face after using your camera.
  • Gross ... (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by fak3r (917687)
    Obviously they got all the germs from donated used keyboards...Dirty keyboard cause infections in hospitals []
  • by Belseth (835595) on Wednesday November 23, 2005 @04:54PM (#14103785)
    Great, now you can get Montezuma's Revenge from a photo.
  • by hosecoat (877680) on Wednesday November 23, 2005 @04:54PM (#14103789) Homepage
    so now there is a new kind of dirty picture. The internet will thrive!
  • ... themselves, or someone who hasn't washed recently could end up with "idiot" written on their forehead.
  • What I'd really like to see is for them to take a picture of billions of genetically engineered E. coli bacteria in a petridish of agar. Yes, that sure will be cool to see.
  • by GecKo213 (890491) on Wednesday November 23, 2005 @04:55PM (#14103800) Homepage child gets a hold of the negatives and eats them? E. coli poisoning!? No thank you!
  • Now photos can be as healthy for you as a Jack in the Box hamburger.

    I don't think the hamburgers react to light though... or anything else...
  • by Bananatree3 (872975) * on Wednesday November 23, 2005 @04:56PM (#14103806)
    I have seen His Holiness himself! Bacteria in the form of Him?!? This most certainly is the work of Thy Holiness! How else could this be possible? Most certainly His own work. These students have been Touched by his Noodely Appendage! (faints)
  • by thewiz (24994) * on Wednesday November 23, 2005 @04:57PM (#14103812)
    That picture of you will really grow on someone!
    Watch as the eyes of the picture really do follow you around the room!
    E. Coli never looked so beautiful!
  • *Ducks* (Score:2, Redundant)

    That photo sure grows on you doesn't it?
  • by penguin-collective (932038) on Wednesday November 23, 2005 @05:04PM (#14103858)
    E. Coli genetic engineering has been around for many years. Creating light sensitive strains, strains that make pigments, etc. is roughly appropriate for college level biology. I suppose it's kind of neat that engineers have taken notice, but it really is textbook stuff.

    In fact, even more simply, since the pigment was present/absent based on whether the bacteria were growing in the light, you can repeat this experiment at home: use any organism using chlorophyll for photosynthesis and grow it in patterned light: you'll get a "photograph" in green/yellow. That's an experiment even elementary school students do.

    You've got to give it to these people, though: they are excellent salespeople. Getting away with such trivialities as "engineering" and endowing bacteria with "new skills" takes both guts and skills.
    • You would be surprised how many "really basic" stuff any college student could do become cutting edge stuff if you JUST make them a bit smaller/ better /ect.

      I did some lithography to create 3d-structures using multilayered resists as a basic lab course. Using REALLY old stuff like 400nm HG-vapour lamp lithography and contact masks. Things you could have done 25 years ago.

      But just do the same with an ebeamer and make 15 nm free-gaps to contact spintronic devices without annoying insulating layers, and its su
    • I have to wonder if there is something more to it. My first thought was that this is awfully similar to drawing on somebody with sunblock when they fall asleep on the beach.
    • Uhh, in case you didn't RTFA, this _is_ college level biology. The team that genetically engineered the bacteria was led by a grad student.
    • Read the slides [] (PDF), they acknowledge photosynthesis. Yes, it's just college students engineering new functionality as part of a competition [], but that itself is pretty cool. I didn't know there is already a registry of standard biological parts [] for this sort of hacking. They add photosensitivity to the bacterium membrane, add pigmentation change, and hook them up.

      The same UCSF lab is also working on an AND gate to combine two sensors, which gets us closer to bacteria delivering lethal payloads to

    • It's a dirty not-so-secret of the scientific establishment that lots of crap gets published in high-quality journals. Lots of great, insightful, interesting papers get rejected, too. Frequently, the success of a publication is about its sales value, more than its scientific value (not to mention who you know, who you are, and how much money you have).

      I could go on and on about this, but it isn't worth the time. People are people everywhere, including scientists. If you do things that make people say "wo
    • It's interesting, not because it's difficult or wholly new, but because they gave it the conceptual spin that might lead to real-world applications.

      Scientists knew stuff would heat in an electric current, and hot stuff would glow in a vacuum without burning, long before Edison figuired how to commercialize the light bulb.
  • Uh, why don't you get back to me when you can engineer bacteria that respond differently to different wavelengths of light, e.g. change to the same color as the light striking them. THEN I'll get excited!
    • that could easily be done. To get most energy out of the sun, photosynthetic organisms (plants, algae mostly) must take into account the spectral properties of the light. Evolution answered with not one type of photoreceptor, but many different, each having its preferred wavelength. All the work is already done, just a matter of copy-pasting. Then generating the corresponding color would be (almost) trivial, through expression of chimeric proteins (chimera between a given photoreceptor and a given chromogen
  • New Scientist (Score:5, Informative)

    by alanw (1822) * <> on Wednesday November 23, 2005 @05:08PM (#14103884) Homepage
    Plenty of bandwidth over at New Scientist []

    Complete with a photo of His Noodly Holiness.

  • by Stonent1 (594886) <.stonent. .at.> on Wednesday November 23, 2005 @05:08PM (#14103890) Journal
    That's pretty shitty.
  • by SuperBanana (662181) on Wednesday November 23, 2005 @05:09PM (#14103892)
    "Adapted from a press release" indeed. WHOIS for
    Administrative Contact: Elabridi:, Mounir Maroc Internet SARL 221 Boulevard Zerktouni Casablanca, 20010 Morocco 17202492499 Fax --

    Third google hit on Mr. Elabridi's name is:

    "Maroc Internet - Management Mounir Elabridi, a globally recognized innovator in Internet marketing, founded Maroc Internet in 2002. Mr Elabridi brings to this venture a proven track ...

    Well, now how about that.

    The domain name servers for the domain are NS1/NS2.BENSULLIVAN.COM. Mr. Sullivan lives at 4404 Price St, Los Angeles, CA 90027- about a 15 minute drive from University California Los Angeles. It's a stretch, but also an interesting coincidence.

    • Yeah, but UCSF is about 300 miles away from UCLA. I'd say that's some stretch.
    • Ben Sullivan (Score:2, Informative)

      by SuperBanana (662181)
      Ben Sullivan is a busy blogger bee and socialite (that photo was taken rather close by to the Price Street address- at King King, on Hollywood Boulevard.)

      Seems to also be involved in, among other things. Which has the exact same address in whois- 4404-1/2 Price Street (sorry- first comment, I omitted the "1/2" by mistake.) also happens to feature the same story. He's pretty cheap about hosting, too- flickr seems to host a lot of the images he uses on his blog entries.

      • Previously mentioned sites:

        Guess what? Scienceblog and themachineworks are both hosted out of an EV1servers hosting facility in Houston, Texas. They're so close to each other, they share the second-to-last router in a traceroute.

        Second- brainblog and are hosted from exactly the same server (or behind the same firewall) at Again- in Houston. Ben Sullivan seems awfully cozy with Mounir Elabridi.

    • That's one of the stupidest things I've seen with a +5 moderation in some time.

      Blogvertisement? Okay. What exactly are they advertising here? What product are they selling?

      Website advertisments - and how does that make 'em different from 95% of other sites Slashdot links to?

      And Brainblog is apparently run out of Morocco. Oh, well that connection is obvious then? Nope. Oh, but their DNS servers are run by a guy in Los Angeles! That makes it all clear - only 15 minutes away from UCLA! (Nevermind that a few te
  • new meaning to the term live porn.
  • I initially read the post as -- billions of genetically engineered E. coli growing in dishes of anger , and I couldn't for the life of me imagine how the scientists were able to know that the E. Coli were angry. I thought maybe they were working together to form insulting pictures to project at the researchers, like goatse or something to that effect. E Coli with attitude: now that's news for nerds! :D
  • ... billions of genetically engineered E. coli ...

    Why would anyone want to buy a camera that has a warning label that the product is not only hazardous to your health but is also a biological agenet if exported outside of the USA? Should be a hot Christmas item for kiddies and terrorists.
  • by setirw (854029)
    So that's how those neat photographs of the Avian Flu virus were taken!
  • All this neat stuff we can do, and we *still* dismiss intelligent design as a possibility.

    *chuckle* That's really interesting. Sad and funny, but interesting.

    • "All this neat stuff we can do, and we *still* dismiss intelligent design as a possibility.

      *chuckle* That's really interesting. Sad and funny, but interesting."

      I'll bite.

      This particular "neat stuff" was creating using the principles and techniques of contemporary genetic science, which in turn wouldn't be possible without a solid foundation in the theory of evolution.

      Let's put that another way: much of biology, including the manipulation of tiny bacterial genes, no longer makes any sense and
      • The day we actually get life fired up in a petri dish, the debate all becomes moot. At that point, intelligent design is not only plausible, it's possible, because we'll have done it. And it'll happen. The second we create a mini-universe inside of an electromagnetic bubble it is not only plausible, it's possible, because we'll have done it. And it'll happen. Man's no slouch. :) But that doesn't necessarily mean he'll be the first to do it. And it doesn't mean he couldn't have been a product of the
  • e coli (Score:1, Redundant)

    I hear the pictures turned out like shit, though.
  • Do not eat iPic
  • Exposure took 12-15 HOURS? What does that equate to as far as film speed? You're going to need to get that down quite a few orders of magnitude to be useful for imaging anything.
  • by dokebi (624663) on Wednesday November 23, 2005 @05:29PM (#14104018)
    He gave a talk at the Synthetic Biology seminar at UC Berkeley two weeks ago. The web cast is located here: riesid=1906978261 []
    It's titled "Programming Dynamic Function into Bacteria"
  • 100 megapixels per square inch with bacteria?

    By the same logic, a photograph developed from a negative has as many pixels as molecules on the surface of the paper. Anyone care to calculate that resolution?
  • Now I gotta worry about getting DISEASES like e-Coli from my PORN ?!?!
  • Beware (Score:5, Funny)

    by Profcrab (903077) on Wednesday November 23, 2005 @05:35PM (#14104047)
    "Mooooom, the picture of Billy is eating Billy."
  • Remember, everyone, this is stable:
    This isn't:
    And I can draw a mean cannonball pattern.
    • 0

      lol I wonder how many will get the reference?
      • Well, I certainly don't. What game are you referring to? (I'm going on a wild assumption that it is a game, but on /. it could be anything... (also I'm quite drunk.))
        • Why The Game of Life [] of course!
          • aaaah, now i see. I remember having a game of life thing on my parent's first computer (a Packard Bell) and playing around with the patterns to see what worked, but never on the scale the website you linked to did. I played Darwinia recently which would occasionally show a game of life type intro with randomly generated start populations. Brought back good memories, and would often reach higher numbers of different generations of 'darwinians' (instead of dots) than I could in my youth, with the Packard Bel
            • I was first introduced to the game by an andre norton book. I used to spend hours laboriously working out patterns on paper. It helped break up the monotony of long car rides. My first program ever written was a Life Game simulator. You had to enter in your patterns as program arguments.

              Ahhh those were the days.
  • I thought was bad, but these new photos really make me sick! (rimshot, please) Thank you, thank you. I'll be here all week. Try the veal and don't forget to tip your waiters.
  • This technology has been used for many years by the the wizards.
    I recall Harry Potter seeing many of these pictures.

    If I recall correctly there were some pictures that even came with candy, these had this "ancient" technology, that's why those pics moved only once... they used bacteria, and bacteria like all life forms have only one life to live. The pictures at Hogwarts walls used more modern technology, where bacteria would reproduce, hence making the pictures live forever. []
  • by caseih (160668) on Wednesday November 23, 2005 @05:38PM (#14104064)
    Where I can I find the original story? This is interesting to me, but I'd rather not be maniupulated into driving traffic to some blog site like Mr. Roland Piquepaille likes to do (haven't seen any of his posts in a while, thank goodness). Not trying to troll here.
  • by Linker3000 (626634) on Wednesday November 23, 2005 @05:38PM (#14104068) Journal

    Hey, my 24 exposure roll of 35mm film just became 26 exposures!!
  • Interesting. (Score:5, Informative)

    by jd (1658) <> on Wednesday November 23, 2005 @05:53PM (#14104171) Homepage Journal
    For images that are essentially monochromatic, this is fine. Actually, a Russian photographer did some ingenious colour photography [] using monochrome film, but that was sensitive to all frequencies not just one.
  • by GrahamCox (741991) on Wednesday November 23, 2005 @06:00PM (#14104220) Homepage
    Scientists have announced that they have managed to create a gigapixel per square inch "light sensor" using only silver halide molecules coated onto a transparent plastic substrate. On exposure to light, some molecules change state by dissociating into pure silver. Exposure times of just a few milliseconds were all that were needed. This image is not visible to the naked eye, but can be "developed" using chemical processing to amplify the image to make it visible. The final image can be then fixed and rendered no longer light sensitive by bleaching out the remaining halides. The image is then rendered permanent. With its vastly higher resolution than ordinary digital CCD sensors, scientists are hailing the discovery as a breakthrough for creating ultra-high resolution images. They have also speculated that by creating a sandwich of light sensitive layers and colour filters, colour images could be recorded by the same process. The only question is, is the usual digital imaging that we have all grown used to doomed by this new process?
    • This revolutionary new chemical process, in addition to providing much higher resolution, also allows for a much greater exposure latitude than current state-of-the-art digital sensors, allowing for much greater levels of both highlight ans shadow details in high-contrast images. And this color process of which you speak should record much more accurately and vividly. All in all, I agree this breakthrough technology looks to be far superior to the current pitiful CCDs we are all used to. Perhaps a bit more
  • Interestingly, the idea of using microbes to create an image is not new. Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin, was a member of the Chelsea Arts Club by virtue of paintings he made by growing different colored bacteria. []
  • Where did I park my Zodiac?
  • BBC radio story (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I heard about this just over an hour ago on the BBC's radio 4: l []

    real audio stream of the program, until it gets replaced in a weeks time by the next program: .ram []

    It talks about various projects around the topic of engineering microorganisms. Light-sensitive engineered E. Coli, "bacterial photography" starts around 8 minutes in if you want to fastforward...
  • "Hey! I made one too, out of penicillin!"
    "Dude, it's eating my e. coli photograph! C'mon man... all that time wasted."
    "Weird, it looks like the Virgin Mary now..."

  • by Snaller (147050)
    E. Coli? That means shitty pictures?

  • ...I feel as if a million eyes are watching me, silently...
  • Great. Now you can actually get infected with something just by looking at porn.

    What's this world coming to.
  • ...touched by His Noodly Goodness []

    Amen. Pass the Alfredo.

  • The photos were created by projecting light on "biological film" -- billions of genetically engineered E. coli growing in dishes of agar."

    "Please keep out of reach of children's mouths. In fact, your's too."
  • by carlmenezes (204187) on Wednesday November 23, 2005 @09:14PM (#14105397) Homepage
    keep smiling...
    *15 mins later*
    keep smiling....
    *half an hour later*
    keep smiling...DON'T MOVE!
    *3 hours later*
    *8 hours later*
    hey! we need your eyes open! you can't fall asleep! and SMILE!
    *12 to 15 hours later*
    there! all done! Your living photograph is ready.
    Now let's start on the family portrait now that you've had some practice.
  • OMG! I can't believe it. First we get viruses by e-mail and now you're telling me I can get a bacterial infection from from looking at naughty pictures?

    I guess the photos are very...(ahem)

    (ducking for cover)
  • Bacteria makes pictures of YOU!!!
  • Saw it linked [] on []

It is contrary to reasoning to say that there is a vacuum or space in which there is absolutely nothing. -- Descartes