Bacterial Photography

Bacterial photography is performed using a genetically modified organism 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. To learn more about Bacterial Photography please skip to the Scientific Background section.

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The Bactograph

We have created a K12 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. To learn more about the protocol associated with this experiment please skip to the experiment section.

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Can I get a Bactograph Kit?

We are currently distributing our kit free of charge to high school classrooms, universities, and museums on a limited basis. If you are interested in using our kit please send an email to contact@bactograph.org. In your email include your class size, number of bactographs requested, shipping address and when you wish to receive the kit. The kit is stable for at least 2 weeks at 4°C. If you would like to keep up to date on our progress please send an email to mailinglist@bactograph.org. To date over 800 high school students have taken Bactographs, and over 175 teachers have tested our kits, and we are excited to share this science with as many people as possible.

The Bactograph Team

The Bactograph Kit is the brainchild of two researchers, Brian Landry and Ravi Sheth, who are a part of Jeff Tabor’s lab at Rice University. Jeff was part of the team which created the first bacterial photographs a decade ago, and has alway envisioned placing the experiment in the hands of young scientists. Brian is a graduate students in who is interested in creating genetically modified probiotic organisms which can address diseases such as diabetes from within the human gut. Ravi is an undergraduate who likes to pretend he is a graduate student. Together we have spent the last two years iteratively crafting a bacterial photography experiment so that it can be performed by high school students.

We hope to continue expanding the impact of this kit and are interested in any feedback you may have. Our current research and free distribution has been funded through a NSF research experience and mentoring program (grant EFRI-1137266), but if you are interested in funding future work on this educational project please let us know. Furthermore, we would be interested in hearing anyone who has knowledge about the legal requirements for expanded distribution of these kits beyond the controlled school and university environment, so if you have specific knowledge in this area please send us an email. We can be reached at contact@bactograph.org. We are excited at the success we have had with the Bactograph Kit and want to share bacterial photography with as many people as possible.

Jeff Tabor

Jeff Tabor

Brian Landry

Brian Landry

Ravi Sheth

Ravi Sheth

NSF Logo

National Science Foundation


The Bactograph Challenge

Over the summer of 2014 the Bactograph team had a blast hosting four underrepresented undergraduates and one high school teacher in our lab for the Bactograph challenge. We challenged each of the participants to improve one portion of the kit using an iterative design process. Many aspects of the kit and teaching resources you see in this website are the result of their hard work. They also ran two teacher workshops to demonstrate their achievements to over 50 high school teachers. This work was part of the National Science Foundation’s Research and Mentoring Experience program. Crystal, Kat, and Nikitha have since continued in our lab providing help with the Bactograph kit.

Bactograph Challenge

Nikitha Cherayil, Kat Sofjan, Crystal Lin, and Nico Medellin