Engineering Innovation Podcast and Radio Series

BioBulb

PostedSeptember 22, 2013

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Anchor Lead: A way to cut back on electric power and batteries might be to let bacteria generate light. Some students are working on just such an electricity-free lamp.

Randy Atkins: The idea is to put genetic instructions from a firefly into the bacteria’s D-N-A. Michael Zaiken, one of three University of Wisconsin students working on the bio-powered lamp, says that should cause the bugs to make light-emitting proteins, so long as…

Michael Zaiken: …the smallest mutation doesn’t just turn off the glowing. So what we’re going try to do is engineer safeguards to prevent that type of mutation.

Randy Atkins: Zaiken’s team also plans to engineer just the right conditions so that the bacteria can reproduce in a closed ecosystem, that needs only sunlight, for about a year. One purpose of the project is to introduce people to synthetic biology.

Michael Ziaken: It’s the biological equivalent of when we first figured out how to make circuits from electricity.

Randy Atkins: Ziaken thinks the first version of their bacteria bulb might not light an entire room, but could power things like reading lamps or exit signs. With the National Academy of Engineering, Randy Atkins, WTOP News.