Taking pictures with bacteria

Bacterial Photography

A breathtaking application of synthetic biology

Bacterial photography is performed using a genetically modified bacteria which has been engineered to see light and respond by changing color. When millions of these bacteria are spread over a surface, they will imitate any image you shine on them, capturing a bacterial photograph. This is a groundbreaking demonstration of our ability to engineer nature to perform a distributed computation in response to the environment, and a striking example of what the future holds in the exciting new field of synthetic biology.

The Bactograph

An exciting classroom experiment

We have created a high school kit which contains everything needed for a science class to create their own bacterial photographs. Teachers familiar with bacterial transformation kits will be at home executing our three day protocol. To create their Bactograph film students mix the bacteria into specially formulated culture media, which they then cast into film by polymerizing the media via a temperature change. To take a picture students attach a hand drawn image to the film and incubate the Bactograph. The next day students observe their own bacterial photographs and analyze their performance.

We are currently distributing our kit free of charge to high school classrooms, universities, and museums. If you are interested please email with the following information. This experiment requires 37℃ incubator. See the manual for more information.


The Bactograph is a simple classroom experiment that can be conducted in under 45 minutes

SCRAPE bacteria off the class plate with an innoculating loop until the loop is filled with bacteria.
SHAKE off inocculating loop in media for 10 seconds.
CAP the media tube. INVERT the media tube quickly for 20 seconds to mix bacteria.
POUR media into the bottom of the petri dish.
WAIT 10 minutes for media to solidify. TILT the plate gently to check if media has solidified.
TURN ON the LED by unscrewing it, removing the white plastic divider, and then screwing it back together tightly.
INSERT the LED into the hole of the paper cup to illuminate the inside of the cup.
DRAW the image you want to take a Bactograph of on the sheet of transparency. Dark, thick lines will result in a better Bactograph.
CAP the petri dish once it has solidified in step 5.
INVERT the petri dish and TAPE the transparency to the bottom.
PLACE he petri dish upside down on the sheet of black paper in the incubator, PLACEthe cup upside down over the petri dish.
INCUBATE the bacteria for 12-24 hours.
REMOVE the transparency and VIEW the bactograph by placing the petri dish on a white surface. Bactographs can be parafilmed and stored for several months at 4℃.
Download the manual

Our Story

The Bactograph is the brainchild of two researchers, Brian Landry and Ravi Sheth, who developed it while working in Jeff Tabor’s lab at Rice University. Jeff was part of the team that created the first bacterial photographs a decade ago, and has sought to place the experiment in the hands of young scientists ever since. In the summer of 2012, we held a hands-on AP workshop where teachers took their own bacterial photographs. After seeing their amazement at our ability to engineer bacteria, we decided we needed the next generation of scientists to share this experience. We spent the next years engineering various bacteria and experimenting with different protocols to create the Bactograph, a simple and cheap bacterial photography kit.