Living display uses millions of glowing bacteria for pixels

Each one of those lovely blue pixels in the picture above is in fact a little chamber containing thousands of bacteria, which turn themselves on and off in unison to create a living fluorescent display. It's not an infectious disease, it's a biopixel! Or, well, I guess maybe it's both.

A biopixel is simply a tiny little bacterial party zone that's stuffed full of about 5,000 individual cells of e. coli, the same friendly organism that both lives in your intestine and causes food poisoning. Some genetic tweaking sets up the bacteria to fluoresce blue on command, which is cool and all, but we've already been able to make all kinds of things glow that shouldn't. The remarkable bit is being able to control some 13,000 biopixel chambers (millions of bacteria) all at once, and fortunately, bacteria already have a built-in synchronization system in the form of a chemically tunable biological clock. When all of the chambers are connected together, the bacterial colonies emit gases that allow them to sync up and glow more or less in unison. Clever little buggers.

Although this display looks totally cool and definitely works, there are some downsides. First, it's rather small, at about the size of a paperclip, and 13,000 biopixels isn't exactly HD resolution. But more importantly, the display has a very, very slow refresh rate: from completely off to completely on takes the display over an hour. Also, since all the biopixels are communicating with each other, you can't turn them on and off individually, which means that any display you create is going to be stuck with whatever image you've initially designed it with.

So, don't expect to see any biopixel TVs coming out in 2012, but the researchers who invented these things say that they could be used to create advance hand-held detectors for chemicals, toxins, and pathogens within the next five years.

Below, watch a video showing a biopixel display in action.

Nature, via Wired UK

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