Monday, February 14, 2011

EVMS Creates Living Rendition of the Google Logo

Hypothesis: it is possible to create "living art" using live bacteria that have absorbed food colouring

This amusing video shows how cell biology professor Dr Edward Johnson and his PhD student, Clayton Wright, from the Eastern Virginia Medical School were able to grow a 'living' Google logo in their microbiology lab as part of the Demo Slam competition.

This video reminds me of my undergraduate years when I was working towards my degree in microbiology. One of the experiments I did was to culture phospholuminescent bacteria from the gills of fish captured in the Puget Sound. After I had a pure culture, I decided I wanted to have some fun by drawing a picture, entirely of bacteria, on a petri plate. After the bacteria multiplied, that picture glowed in the dark. Like the scientists in the video, my "bacterial artwork" worked beautifully on the first try.

How the "Living Google Logo" experiment was done: E. coli bacteria BL21 LysS is a laboratory strain that is harmless to humans but very useful for growing specific genes used in studies of cancer and AIDS. These bacteria are commonly used as microscopic factories to produce millions of copies of these genes which are then used in experiments.

To do this experiment, the scientists placed the bacteria into four small test tubes containing growth medium and added a small amount of common commercially available food colourings, one colour per tube for each of the four Google colors. After culturing the bacteria for four hours in the colored medium, investigator Clayton Wright used a sterile Q-tip to "plate" each population of the colored E. coli onto a Petri dish containing bacterial growth medium in agar. (Agar is a starch that hardens -- similar to gelatin -- to support growth of organisms like bacteria on a solid platform.) Clayton placed the bacteria on the agar surface in the Google logo style.

The scientists' primary concern was that the colouring would diffuse out from the bacterial colonies and not make a coherent Google logo. But after an overnight incubation, they found that did not happen. The coloring stayed with the bacteria quite well, and the Google logo grew out very nicely. They anticipated having to repeat this experiment many times to get it right, but it came out beautifully on the first try.

From: Punctuated Equilibrium

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