Synthetic Biology competition team creates light bulb from e-coli

Newcastle University students have attempted to create a novel field of synthetic biology by fusing biology with electronics. Their project involved looking at electronic circuitry and combining biology and electronics to create alternative parts resulting in an electro-biological system. They used the HtpG heat shock promoter to make a biological, heat-induced light bulb, modifying the pores of E. coli to generate a higher electrical output from a microbial fuel cell, along with a biological capacitor and light-dependent resistors.

The Newcastle team is competing in the 2016 International Genetically Engineered Machine competition (iGEM). It is an annual global competition that ends in a synthetic biology science fair called the Giant Jamboree. The eight-person team from Newcastle is just one of 300 teams from 40 countries.

The Newcastle team has set out to create biological versions of the electronic components that are used in many electronic circuits, such as lightbulbs and batteries. They have designed, characterized, and documented new parts in the parts registry. We have also made lots of new friends through collaboration with a number of teams and our attendance in UK and European meetups. Finally, we prototyped an electronic breadboard kit that will allow a user to combine electronic parts with these new biological versions.

They placed a microfluidic chip containing E. coli transformed with our BBa_K1895000 construct onto our magnetic breadboard system and captured this image under UV light, indicating that the fluorescing bacteria can be observed. Note – this is a technical recreation wherein the cells were placed in a shaking incubator at 42°C before being injected into the chip. This was due to technical difficulties. We have previously demonstrated that we can successfully achieve the required temperature change within the chamber to induce sfGFP expression via electrical heating, and that sfGFP is expressed highly in E. coli transformed with this construct at this temperature.

They placed the miniature microbial fuel cell construct containing E. coli transformed with BBa_K1895004 and another standard microfluidic chip, connecting them via our hardware connector pieces. They confirmed using a multimeter that the voltage across the receiving chip (being output from the ‘battery’) was as we expected based on our previous results.