The concept of an organic computer isn’t new, but what about a living screen? Boffins at the University of California San Diego have managed to do just that, using an array of e. coli bacterial colonies, or “biopixels”, that hook up to one another using completely natural systems.
Pretty, right? How can something we associate with our digestive tracts be so alluring? The ability to glow is a trait the bioengineers had to add via a special protein that hooks up to the body clocks of the bacteria, so no, your intestines are not glowing blue right now.
The biopixels are synchronised via gases released by the bacteria themselves. Once the other colonies catch wind of it, they get in line and luminescence too. The specially-designed chips the colonies are stored in allow the gas to spread easily and display a unified image.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely these glowing cells will be used in actual TVs or computer screens. For one, it takes an hour to toggle the cells and controlling them individually is currently not possible. The largest display so far is as big as a paper clip, and they only get smaller from there. The only practical use at this stage is scientific — the creation of cheap bio-sensors to detect environmental toxins.
Anyway, who would buy a gut-powered screen? It’s bizarre. And gross. Great conversation starter, though.