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Neon Bacteria

December 03, 2015 2 min read

An unusual way of creating neon signs has been discovered by a team of biologists and bioengineers at the University of California San Diego (UCSD). They have created living neon signs, made up of millions of bacterial cells that fluoresce in unison like light bulbs – but we think we might stick to the usual tube heating and bending for our Neon Creations.

Neon Signs Come to Life

To create the living neon light, scientists attached a fluorescent protein to the biological clocks of bacteria and synchronised the body clocks of the bacteria within the colony, leading to them glowing in unison. With this, they were able to create a neon sign that spelt out “UC SD”.

The neon bacteria respond in different ways dependant on environmental pollutants; a micro-fluidic chip contains 50 to 60 million bacterial cells about the size of a paperclip and these were used to create the living neon sign.

This technique has enabled them to create flashing signs, as well as a simple bacterial sensor capable of detecting arsenic, it would make the sensor blink on and off slower to indicate the presence of the poison. The team from UCSD believe that a small hand-held sensor that could take readings of the neon bacteria on disposable chips to check the presence and concentrations of toxic substances.

Unfortunately, the technique behind our Neon Creations doesn’t allow us to create neon signs out of bacteria; but with us being commissioned to design a number of signs for restaurants and bars every year, we’re not sure the health & safety board would be too impressed with a neon sign made from millions of bacteria.

Want to learn how we create our signs? It’s a little different from this. The process has changed very little over the past century, but it’s arguably one of the last manufacturing processes that require manual labour, take a look!