"The Biobulb is essentially a closed ecosystem in a jar," says biochemistry major Michael Zaiken in the team’s video pitch. "It’s going to contain several different species of microorganisms, and each organism plays a role in the recycling of vital nutrients that each of the other microbes need to survive."
The kit’s key ingredient will be a genetically engineered species of Escherichia coli bacteria. These microbes live inside the intestines of humans and other animals, and they don’t normally glow in the dark.
Zaiken and his two teammates, Alexandra Cohn and AnaElise Beckman, plan to insert a loop of DNA into E. coli that will allow the bacteria to bioluminesce like jellyfish, fireflies, squid, or some other light-producing lifeform.
The genetically modified E. coli plus a growth media, microbes that use ambient light to create food and recycle waste, and a bulb should be able to glow and recharge repeatedly, perhaps for days or months…
Biobulb isn’t available yet; the team still needs to study the best genes, kit ingredients, and caretaking methods. One of the current challenges is finding a way to keep the DNA that codes for bioluminescence inside the E. coli as the cells replicate. “Right now we are looking at a couple of strategies to keep the [bioluminescence] genes stable over long periods of time,”