Hundreds of LEDs or billions of bacteria?

LEDs are awesome, no one is going to dispute that fact.

Do you remember what the CN Tower looked like at night before it was outfitted with over one thousand LEDs? It was so boring. Now it’s the most exciting thing in the sky over Toronto during the evening hours (take that moon!).

But would LEDs still be cool if they were alive? That sounds like it could be interesting, however, we think it warrants a closer look…

According to the LA Times, scientists at UC San Diego have managed to make millions of fluorescent E. coli bacteria flash all at once, creating a kind of living LED screen.

It took five years of research to create what Jeff Hasty, a professor of biology and bioengineering, calls “biopixels”. How did they do it? Well, if you really want to know, then it’s time to get down to some serious science.

First, Hasty and his team built a biological clock inside a single bacterial cell that would tell the bacteria when to produce a flashing, glowing light. The next step was to sync thousands of bacteria to get their flash on in unison and the final stage saw the research team figure out how to get bacteria in different colonies to blink on and off at the same time.

They succeeded and the living LED screen was created!

It’s kinda small right now. Scientists have a screen that contains about 13,000 colonies and it’s about the size of a paper clip, but they’re thinking that once they manage to get the bacteria to communicate instantaneously over even farther distances, much larger screens will be possible.

“There is nothing that would preclude a company from making a beer sign out of these,” Hasty said. That would mean that a bar would have a sign made of living bacteria hanging in its window and that might be a big turn-off.

On the plus side, a living LED would not require any electricity, so score one for the environment!

Will we live to see the CN Tower filled with glowing bacteria at night? What about a condo sales centre with a promo sign made up of billions of bacteria colonies? It could be gross, but it also could be… the future.

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