A beach in glowing bacteria

By Ed Yong | January 24, 2009 12:00 pm

A little light weekend treat for you.

This beach scence was drawn using eight strains of glowing bacteria. Each has been engineered to produce a differently coloured fluorescent protein. The bacteria were swabbed over a nutrient plate and left to grow overnight, resulting in this living, shining work of art.

The best thing about it is that it comes from the laboratory of Roger Tsien, who won a Nobel Prize for his discovery of work on developing the green fluorescent protein, GFP. This big daddy of glowing proteins was isolated from a species of jellyfish and its structure has since been tweaked to produce variants that glow in different colours. By providing scientists with a way of visualising the goings-on inside living cells, GFP and its kin have revolutionised modern molecular biology. And, obviously, it makes for pretty, pretty pictures.

(Hat tip to the wonderful Observation of a Nerd)



Comments (13)

  1. Dan G.

    Thank you very much. A long, long time ago in another era I spent many hours with an inoculating loop and tall stacks of culture plates. My compliments to loop artist.

  2. This is truly amazing, I’m taking Microbiology now and I should tell my professor about this one. Thanks!

  3. Thanks for the hat-tip… I’m flattered that such an accomplished writer has even seen my blog :)

  4. Kevin Schreck

    Amazing! And who says science can’t produce art?

  5. wow, so beautiful! Particularly impressive as at the moment I’m having a hard time growing anything on my plates that isn’t fungal contamination :)

  6. Thanks for the hat-tip… I’m flattered that such an accomplished writer has even seen my blog :)

    Don’t be – your blog’s great. Everyone, go check out Christie’s blog.

  7. Verna

    Inspiring to say the least. If this doesn’t spark an interest in science in youngsters, nothing will.

  8. its amazing!!! do they have special microscopes to image the flour petry plate?

  9. AJ

    This image conjured memories of when I had the pleasure of interviewing Roger Tsien at a conference here in Brisbane, Australia last year. The most interesting part of talking to the man was that he was a Nobel prize winner who was still excited when recalling how he messed about with chemistry sets as a kid. He also said he was saddened by the emergence of “GFP pets” as he saw them as an exploitation of a scientific idea for quick profit. Finally, you have to respect a man who can bring off socks and sandals at the same time.

  10. Gustavo

    Seems like an interesting website or at least it has a nice name but first article I read and… first mistake I find. Roger Tsien, with all the respect and admiration I have for him (I also live in San Diego where he works), he did not discover GFP. Nature probably did but Osamu Shimomura, who shared the nobel prize with Roger Tsien and Martin Shalfie, was the first to really isolate GFP. Roger excelled in the applications he did out of it. Not a big thing but accuracy is also important when you write about science especially when it comes to attributing discoveries to people. Other than that, I will certainly peruse your website and keep the good work.

  11. Gustavo – thanks for the correction. I’ve changed the text accordingly. I absolutely agree that accuracy is important.

  12. Marc Abian

    This is truly amazing, I’m taking Microbiology now and I should tell my professor about this one. Thanks!

    He probably knows already. It’s rather fashionable for visiting speakers to my university to spell out messages on plates and then put the plates on their presentation.

  13. Bri

    Great article! I used to work in a lab that used GFP knock-in mice to visualize GABA-ergic neurons. When the pups were born we’d hold them underneath the scope and if their brains glowed green we knew they were GFP-positive! *sigh* I miss basic research..


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Not Exactly Rocket Science

Dive into the awe-inspiring, beautiful and quirky world of science news with award-winning writer Ed Yong. No previous experience required.

See More

Collapse bottom bar