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Now Available: Innovators Under 35 2013 See The 2013 List »

Christopher Voigt, 30

A vision in bacteria

University of California, San Francisco

Synthetic biologist Christopher Voigt has created an unusual image: the Virgin Mary on a lawn of E. coli. In turning microbes into a "photographic" medium, Voigt and his team have illustrated his approach to synthetic biology: creating genetic parts that can be used interchangeably to achieve different results. They hooked a light receptor from blue-green algae to a protein that normally controls E. coli genes' response to the cell's surroundings.

They then swapped one of these genes for one that turns a certain chemical black. The finished bacterium turned black in the dark; by holding a stencil between a Petri dish and a light source, the researchers could impose an image onto the bacteria.

Though Voigt says the bacteria are just a "toy technology," he is using the same precepts to develop parts for more complex organisms, such as bacteria that spin spider silk or target and kill cancer cells.

--Emily Singer

2006 TR35 Winners

Jeffrey Bode

Peptide "Legos" to make new drugs

Edward Boyden

Artificially firing neurons

Utkan Demirci

Disposable AIDS diagnosis

Manolis Kellis

Understanding genomes

Liam Paninski

Decoding brain signals

Jay Shendure

The $1,000 genome

Christopher Voigt

A vision in bacteria

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