MIT researchers engineer E. Coli bacteria to perform different functions.
MIT researchers recently discovered a way to manipulate E. coli bacteria that could lead to the creation of self-healing solar cells and batteries. The team combined organic, and non-organic materials, to create various forms of bacteria, each with their own defining characteristics.
The biological and electrical engineers involved chose E. coli because it produces a thin layer of cells known as a biofilm. This film is able to capture inorganic molecules, depending on how it’s engineered, and incorporate them into its own structure.
Gold nanoparticles were one of the inorganic materials used, which turned the bacteria conducive to electricity. Researchers discovered it was also possible to combine different materials in one biofilm, one example being gold nanoparticles and semiconductor crystals know as quantum dots.
One of the most impressive discoveries was that cells could be engineered to communicate with one another. A particular strain of E. coli that bonds with gold nanoparticles, for example, could also signal to surrounding bacteria, which would cause them to start producing a biofilm that also accepts the same material.
“It shows that you can make cells that talk to each other and they can change the composition of the material over time,” said Timothy Lu, lead author on the paper describing the technique in Nature Materials. “Ultimately, we hope to emulate how natural systems, like bone, form. No one tells bone what to do, but it generates a material in response to environmental signals.”