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Scientists Utilizes Glowing Bacteria to Make Living LED Screens

Scientists Utilizes Glowing Bacteria to Make Living LED Screens

Scientists at UC San Diego have made a breakthrough on making millions of flourescent E. coli bacteria flash all at once, creating a sort of living LED screen.

Jeff Hasty, a professor of biology and bioengineering led the research team in the university's Division of Biological Sciences and BioCircuits Institute.

It took him and his team about five years and a series of papers to develop what he calls the "biopixels" that make up the living LED screen. Firstly, date back to 2008, Hasty and his team published a paper that showed how they built a biological clock inside a single bacterial cell that would tell the bacteria when to produce a flashing, glowing light.

Secondly, in 2010 they published a paper to show they could synchronize thousands of bacteria in the same colony to blink on and off in unison.

The next step was to find out if they could get bacteria in different colonies to blink on and off at the same time.

"We were wondering if we could get the bacteria to communicate over large distances," Hasty said. A long distance in the bacterial world might be 1 centimeter. As it turned out, they could communicate over long distances by having the bacterial cells create a vapor that allows the different colonies to communicate with each other almost instantaneously. So the living LED screen was born.

Additionally, he and his team have other applications for their living LED screen in mind. They have been able to engineer a simple bacterial sensor that can detect low levels of arsenic, and cause the bacteria to flash more quickly if arsenic is found. As Hasty introduced "If you are in Bangladesh and you want to know if there is arsenic in your water, you could use a sensor made out of these chips. That's more the direction we are headed."