News - May 10, 2012

Students publish on flashy idea

Wageningen students publish in PLoS One about the growth cell they designed themselves.

The Wageningen students who were beaten in the preliminary round of the iGem design competition for new organisms were deeply disappointed. But they can console themselves with the fact that their invention will be published in the online academic journal PLoS ONE.
The students used a growth cell to make a colony of bacteria that emit a flashing light. The publication is not about the flashing bacteria, however, but about the growth cell that the students designed themselves and in which you can breed and study bacteria in a controlled environment. The cell is a cheap alternative to the expensive and specialized equipment biologists usually use for this purpose. The design looks somewhat like a plastic brick with two chambers inside it. The bacteria are grown in the upper chamber, while the lower chamber has a nutrient solution. The chambers are separated by a porous sheet which enables nutrients to pass through continuously but stops the bacteria from spreading.
The students used their growth cell to create ‘flashing' bacteria by getting them alternately to produce and to break down light-emitting proteins. The team hopes to publish an account of this process too.
The students look back with satisfaction on their participation in the contest. ‘It was a fantastic experience,' says Brendan Ryback. ‘It was the complete scientific process condensed into a few months.'
Their supervisor, Mark van Passel is full of praise for the students, who sometimes worked in the lab for about seventy hours a week.