Voigt Lab programs bacteria to perform increasingly complicated tasks

UCSF School of Pharmacy researchers and colleagues have successfully created a mathematical model that genetically programs bacteria and causes the bacteria to "trace" images projected onto them in a petri dish. The bacteria sense and display the area of the projection where light meets dark by producing a visible black pigment. The result is the "tracing" of a projected picture, from the profile of Alfred Hitchcock to the outline of a five-pointed star. The model is applied using many genetic circuits.

The work shows that it is possible to string tens or hundreds of genes together to engineer cells to perform very complex tasks, such as self assembling into a liver or swimming through the bloodstream to hunt and kill tumors. The paper that presents this research appeared in Cell on June 26, 2009 and builds upon the researchers' previous success in engineering E. coli bacteria to act as a film that is capable of "taking" a photograph.

Lead author of the paper is postdoctoral scholar Jeffrey Tabor, PhD, who works in the in the laboratory of corresponding author and School of Pharmacy faculty member Christopher Voigt, PhD. Co authors in the Voigt laboratory are postdoctoral scholar Howard Salis, PhD, and PhD graduate student Anselm Levskaya. Fellow members of the team are scientists from the University of Texas, Austin.

The work was cited in Popular Science, September 21, 2009.

Research paper

A Synthetic Genetic Edge Detection Program, Cell, June 26, 2009


Genetically Engineered Bacteria Etch Famous Faces Into a Petri Dish, Popular Science online, September 21, 2009


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