by Miryam Muller in


E. chromi tells the story of a project uniting designers Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg and James King with a team of undergraduate biology students at Cambridge University. Using genes from existing organisms, the team designed custom DNA sequences, called BioBricks, and inserted them into E. coli bacteria. The new E. coli—dubbed “E. chromi”—were programmed to express a rainbow of colors when exposed to various chemicals.

Ginsberg and King helped the young biologists dream up a variety of possible applications for the invention. For example, E. chromi could be used to test the safety of drinking water–turning red if a toxin is present, green if it’s okay. Or it might  be used as an early warning system for disease: a person would ingest some yogurt containing E. chomi, then watch out for tell-tale colors at the other end of the digestive process.

What makes E.chromi most fascinating are its diverse and tremendously valuable real-life applications, from testing groundwater for chemicals to producing natural, chemical-free colorings and dyes for food and textiles to personalized disease monitoring via custom probiotic yogurt.

For more films on synthetic biology, see the Bio:Fiction website.