Our project retold the nightingale and the rose using the tool of synthetic biology. In the story, the nightingale song all night under the cold moonlight, stained and scented the flower by its blood. We picked out four elements—sound, light, color and odor from the original story and combined them together. In our project, E. coli needed light and sound as inputs to produce color and odor as outputs. The process was mainly divided into three parts: sound to light, light to color, and light to odor. The light-color and light-odor conversions were achieved with the RGB system which was based on the phage RNAP system as a resource allocator. As for the sound-light conversion, we developed a software that allowed users to upload their own music to generate their unique dynamic pictures, with which people could color and ‘ensoul’ their own roses.
The improve of ‘the E. coli Pen’:
In 2010, team KIT-Kyoto invented an ‘E.coli Pen’ which used genetically modified E.coli and the medium as ink, as a new art tool to draw pictures. (More information about team KIT-Kyoto, please see KIT-Kyoto 2010).
Our project mainly improved the project in three aspects:
First, we improved the input into a more convenient and harmless one. Although it was said in the project that the concentrations of Hydrogen peroxide in the ink could be controlled, the carcinogenicity of Hydrogen peroxide still remained uncertain because Hydrogen peroxide was classified as Class 3 of Carcinogens, which might become a barrier for the spread of the tool. What’s more, there was also problems to use hydrogen peroxide to induce the color because the liquid leaked easily and was also to control the flow. However, in our project, we used light as input to induce the production of color, which was no harm for bodies, and the intensity and wavelengths of light could be easily changed using our projector. Using more convenient and safe input, we believed that the public would be more willing to interact with our bacteria, and enjoy themselves in the combination of art and science.
Another aspect we improved was that we greatly increased the controllability of our system. In the project of E.coli pen, the mix of mediums was used to generate new colors, which meant that new inks had to be prepared previously, and people can only draw one color at a time. Furthermore, as many kinds of fluorescence could not be excited in the natural light condition, people could hardly know the precise position of the lines they had drawn. We used projector to solve these problems. Our bacteria could mix colors and generate new colors in their cells, and the only thing we need to do to change a color was to change the light. Using a projector, the pictures could be precisely cast onto the plates and produce a delicate artwork. Our hardware was more like a printer while the hardware of KIT-Kyoto team was more like a pen. So it was a leap from ‘pen’s to ‘printer’s, and therefore, we can ‘print’ multiple colors and even a color spectrum at the same time, creating more colorful patterns.
Third, we provided various forms for the public to enjoy the combination of science and art. As mentioned in the wiki of KIT-Kyoto, we should “make the science and technology more accessible”. So we developed the principle from just pictures and created our project, which connected sound, light, color, and odor, to attract more people to get closer to the field of art and science.
(More information about the improvement of this project, please see our wiki page Valid Contribution & Proof of Concept).
The improve of ‘The Smell of Us’
We improved the project of ‘The Smell of Us’ by applying the RGB system to the odor parts created by Pairs Bettencourt team in 2014. (More information about team Pairs Bettencourt, please see Pairs Bettencourt 2014)
Controlled by light, the smell of bacteria got changeable, rather than keeping only one kind of smell. The changeable smell would have more wide applications, such as fragrant lamps, multiple-odor artworks and changeable signals. In our project, we used the odors controlled by light to created a fragrant rose, which connected the color and smell, and this expressive form of art was certain to increase the interest of the public in art and science.
We must show our respect for the projects and the teams mentioned above, because they inspired us to pay attention to the combination of art and science, and they did really good job. We wish we can prompt the people’s understanding of art and science by our project, on the basis of the wonderful works done by previous iGEM teams.
(More information about the improvement of this project, please see our wiki page DEMONSTRATE).
Oscar Wilde, 1995, Happy Prince and Other Tales. Everyman's Library, 96
 Fernandez-Rodriguez J, Moser F, Song M, et al. Engineering RGB color vision into Escherichia coli[J]. Nature Chemical Biology, 2017, 13(7):706-708.