U of C students taking laser project to competition



darren krause/metro calgary


Patrick King, a third-year U of C health sciences student, shows off the computer-guided laser plotter that makes bacterium glow — also known as E.coLisa.

Fluorescent bacteria would hardly be considered an art form by most standards, but University of Calgary students are combining computer science and microbiology with the hope of a glowing review from judges at an international competition.

U of C students in the technology and medicine faculties have joined forces to develop a computer-guided laser that causes the bacteria it hits to turn fluorescent green or blue for entry into the international Genetic Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition this weekend at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The project is designed to show the potential in the use of light to trigger genetically engineered organisms to do useful things.

“With the light sensor, it gives you, if you put the cells in the dark, an opportunity to have very precise activation of cells in potentially complex patterns that have uses that no one has come up with yet,” said third-year health sciences student Patrick King.

“It’s very much a basic research tool that, if it were perfected, could become a useful tool.”

Suggested practical applications of the technology are for high-resolution images or even the targeting of individual cancer cells for treatment.

To demonstrate the intricacy and precision of the light sensor on the bacteria, the team will attempt to recreate a pre-selected image in glowing bacteria for the judges of the competition.

Competing in the basic tool category, King hopes the team has a good shot to better last year’s first place in the “conquering adversity” category.