E. chromi: Designer Bacteria

E. chromi, a short film about a unique collaboration between designers and biologists has won the best documentary award at Bio:Fiction, the world’s first synthetic biology film festival, held earlier this month in Vienna.
E. chromi tells the story of a project uniting designers Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg and James King with a team of undergraduate biology students at Cambridge University. Using genes from existing organisms, the team designed custom DNA sequences, called BioBricks, and inserted them into E. coli bacteria.The new E. coli—dubbed “E. chromi”—were programmed to express a rainbow of colors when exposed to various chemicals.

Ginsberg and King helped the young biologists dream up a variety of possible applications for the invention.For example, E. chromi could be used to test the safety of drinking water–turning red if a toxin is present, green if it’s okay. Or it might  be used as an early warning system for disease: a person would ingest some yogurt containing E. chromi, then watch out for tell-tale colors at the other end of the digestive process.

The E. chromi team was awarded the grand prize at the 2009 International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. For more films on synthetic biology, see the Bio:Fiction website.



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