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Engineering an Ecosystem
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Engineering an Ecosystem

June 5, 2012
Predator bacteria (green) surround prey bacteria (red) in this Petri dish version of the Serengeti. Rather than eating their prey, however, predator cells release a chemical that activates a suicide gene in the prey. Prey cells also release a chemical, but one that promotes survival of the predators. Researchers genetically programmed the cells to communicate with each other in this way and function as a synthetic ecosystem. The artificial system acts as an experimental model, and can help us understand behaviors in more complex, natural ecosystems. Bioengineers Lingchong You of Duke University and Frances Arnold of the California Institute of Technology developed an artificial ecosystem made up of two bacterial populations to see if complex interactions found in larger ecosystems--like the Serengeti--could be created in simpler organisms. You was a postdoc in Arnolds lab at CalTech at the time this research was performed. (Date of Image: 2009) Credit: Song Hao, Lingchong You, Duke University