The right exposure
Dig this: A group of students have developed photographic film composed of bacteria. They took E. coli and genetically modified it by adding a protein from blue-green algae that detects light. They also linked it to the E. coli’s digestion: In the dark, the bacteria digest sugar and produce a black pigment, but in the light they don’t. Then they coated a petri dish evenly with this modified stuff.
The result? An organic way of taking pictures. The students put the petri dish inside a pinhole camera, expose the dish to light, and presto: The bacteria produce replicas of the scene in dark patches of pigment. As Aaron Chevalier, one of the students, told the University of Texas’ web site:
At first, we made blobby images and you had to imagine what they were.
But over the course of the year, he and the other students refined the camera. Although it’s still made with old bookends, discarded microscope parts and a used incubator, the newest camera is much more
compact and takes crisper pictures. I love the look of the photos: They’re like ghostly old daguerreotypes somebody found in their dead greataunt’s attic. It’s a great way to show the promise of synthetic biology – mucking with genetic material to produce new and weirdly useful forms of life.