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The E. Coli Code

October 27, 2011

Scientists have created a secret fluorescent code by inserting jellyfish genes into E. coli bacteria.



The E.Coli Code…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Heard of snail mail? Well, now there’s bacteria mail. Researchers at Tufts University have devised a way to send coded messages by inserting jellyfish genes into harmless bacteria. Chemist David Walt explains.

DAVID WALT (Tufts University):

We generated 7 different kinds of bacteria, all of which produce a different fluorescent protein, and when they grow, they generate a fluorescent signal when you shine light on them. And so with a 2-color combination of 7 different colors, we can generate 49 different symbols.


Walt says the messages can be read only by recipients who have the correct growth medium, a sort of biological decoder ring. While this might sound less efficient than electronic communication, he says secret messages sent this way would be much harder to hack. The bacterial codes could also be used as an alternative to digital bar codes to deter counterfeiting. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.