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Affecting adapted bacterial cell membranes with light – steps towards controlling synthetic bacterial functions

13 March 2023

Light-activated Bacteria

Neuroscientists have had the monopoly on using light-activated proteins to induce electrical impulses in cells. This ability to control cell firing at the flick of a switch has revolutionised research into the brain, but brain cells are not the only electrical cells in nature. It’s understood, for example, that changes in microbial cell electrophysiology regulate all sorts of processes including spore production, biofilm formation and susceptibility to antibiotics. With this in mind, researchers have now adapted tools previously used in neurons for use in bacteria. The bacteria in the video contain such photoswitch proteins and, when exposed to light for 10 seconds (every 10 minutes), become negatively charged (hyperpolarised) – seen as a pulse of blue colour. As a proof-of-concept experiment, these flashing bacteria open the door for research into various aspects of microbial electrophysiology and pave the way for developing synthetic bacteria whose functions can be controlled by light.

Written by Ruth Williams

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