The afternoon after the synthetic biology lecture at NanoLab was BioPlaytime, where we engineered E. coli with genes that produce multicolor pigments, painted with living cells, and designed our own mini-iGEM projects.

We engineered bacterial cells with a mixture of DNA coding for multicolor pigments, including fluorescent proteins and the E. chromi genes (many thanks to BioBuilder for providing the violacein plasmids and tremendous educational resources!). Spreading the mixture onto petri dishes created beautiful abstract "paintings" (above).

Touching these cells with a toothpick and spreading them onto empty petri dishes makes invisible paintings that grow overnight. Microbial art like this has a long history, back to the 1930's when Alexander Fleming--the scientist who discovered penicillin--created "germ paintings" with pigmented bacteria.

The students also brought their creativity to a different kind of bio-making, by imagining mini iGEM projects. There was a huge range between the different groups, from bacteria that block UV rays to create living sunblock, genetic systems that shuffle DNA and activate evolution, and luminescent bacteria to decorate your Christmas tree.