Scientists Got E. Coli Bacteria to Recreate the Mona Lisa

Cavemen scrawled crude drawings on rock walls. Jackson Pollock splattered paint everywhere and it looked pretty sweet. And the increasing accessibility of high-powered computers has led to a ton of digital art. Now, scientists have come up with another new way to express themselves creatively, and they’re doing it with E. coli bacteria (via Gizmodo).

In the interest of creating bacteria that would move more quickly as they received more light, a group of Italian researchers used a genetically modified hybrid of the light-sensitive protein proteorhodopsin and E. coli’s flagellum, the tail that allows it to move around. They then used a modified projector and microscope to project images onto a surface, knowing that the bacteria taking in more light would group more closely together, while the opposite would be true for bacteria exposed to dark. They used this knowledge to create images such as the black and white Mona Lisa you see above, which, considering how it was made, is an impressive facsimile.

This experiment wasn’t just for the fun of recreating a classic painting, though: The goal was to modify large groups of bacteria in hopes of controlling them, with potential applications for this including microscopic transportation devices and bacteria-based 3D printing. As study author Roberto Di Leonardo from the Sapiezna University of Roma told Gizmodo, “I think it’s an interesting proof of concept of possibly using bacteria as bricks to build structure on the microscale cheaply and easily.”

What do you think of this impressive work, both scientifically and artistically? Let us know what you think down in the comments!

Images: Wikimedia Commons, eLife

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