E. coli engineered to glow certain colors  (Source:
Seven strains of bacteria have been genetically engineered to express varied fluorescent proteins

For barcoding-related reasons, non-biological information can be encoded in microorganisms' DNA. But costly sequencing and other laboratory techniques/equipment have been needed to understand the information encoded -- until now.

Tufts University researchers Manuel A. Palacios and David R. Walt along with Harvard University chemistry professor George M. Whitesides have found an easier and less expensive way to read output for encoded information through the use of fluorescent signals according to The Epoch Times.

The technique, called steganography by printed arrays of microbes (SPAM), uses seven strains of bacteria that have been genetically engineered to express varied fluorescent proteins. Researchers assigned a color pair to a number, letter or character; making it so the seven strains encode 49 alphanumeric characters.

The bacteria are grown into specific color types on agar gel plates, and a piece of paper-like material called nitrocellulose is then pressed over the plate, thus imprinting it with the strains of bacteria.

As it dries, the coloring disappears, but the message can reappear once again by putting the paper-like material back onto the agar plate. This leads to the regrowth of the bacteria, which exposes color again.

What makes this technique different from others is its added layer of security. While many glowing microbes can be used, only the ones that can survive a dose of a certain antibiotic will reveal the correct message when unveiled to the correct light. For example, the research team created a message that said, "This is a bioencoded message from the walt lab at tufts university 2011." The drug kanamycin gave different bacteria that held the message, "you have used the wrong cipher and the message is gibberish."

This technique, which was created as part of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's (DARPA) Chemical Communications program, could be used to easy barcoding reading as well as a way to prevent counterfeiting.

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