Course 3: Let’s Paint with Bacteria


Goals for this Course

  • To create simple functional genes for expressing colorful chromoproteins.
  • To identify key DNA sequence elements required for protein expression.
  • To introduce methods for cutting up DNA into well defined pieces.
  • To produce a basic mathematical model for how proteins are expressed.


Key Terms Covered

  • Start Codon
  • Stop Codon
  • CDS (Coding Sequence)
  • ORF (Open Reading Frame)
  • Modular
  • Analytical Digest
  • Steady State



Hi everybody! Welcome back to Synthetic Biology One.

Pablo Picasso said that “The artist is a receptacle for emotions that come from all over: from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider’s web.”

In this project, we will use genetically modified bacteria to create art. Our inspiration will be the chromoproteins: small simple, brightly pigmented proteins that can be found in every color of the rainbow. Nature has produced these proteins in different species all over the planet and synthetic biologists have collected them, modified them in some cases, and expressed them in laboratory bacteria.

If you’re an artistic soul, you might be inspired be the creative possibilities of a living paint. Or, if you’re not an artistic soul, you can focus on the very practical reasons we have for using these proteins. They are easy to keep track of, because unlike most proteins, we can just see them. We know what gene we transformed by the color of the protein that we make. Normally we don’t have that luxury with DNA. We need to use special tricks to visualize DNA and to identify specific sequences. We’ll introduce some of those methods in this project.

Chromoproteins will get us thinking about protein concentrations and how to control them. Are these cells red, or are they really red? We’ll look closer at the parts of a gene that control protein expression. For the first time, we’ll connect specific DNA sequence changes with specific outcomes, in this case cell colors. These are places where we can make edits to the sequence as DNA designers. Do you want sky blue or royal blue?

Finally, we’ll continue to develop our basic microbiology lab skills. I may not be Pablo Picasso, but I can streak out cells beautifully on a Petri dish.

Until next time – art is life and life is art.

Course Curriculum