Engineering the collective behaviour of bacteria through environmental control

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Engineering Mathematics


Our ability to engineer and control the collective behaviour of bacteria is becoming increasingly
important in the emerging field of synthetic biology and for medical applications. Large groups of
bacteria for example may develop collective antibiotic tolerance through biofilm formation or
swarming. Understanding, and disrupting these collective behaviors could prove instrumental in
fighting antimicrobial resistance.
To this end, we will develop a 'swarm arena' to interact with bacteria with fine spatio-temporal control
via light, magnetic fields and chemical release. The ability to precisely interact and perturb swarms of
living cells will enable us to better understand the underlying rules governing these behaviours and
offer insight regarding their potential control. Furthermore, the general nature of the arena will allow
for the study of other swarms of reprogrammed bacteria, responsive micro- and nano-particles, and


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/N509619/1 01/10/2016 30/09/2021
1793903 Studentship EP/N509619/1 01/10/2016 31/01/2021 Ana Hewitt Rubio Denniss
Description A low cost and open source platform has been developed that allows the user to optically interact on a local level with microscopic systems e.g. microparticles, bacteria, human cells. The device is called the DOME (Dynamic Optical Micro-Environment) and uses custom algorithms to track individual agents within the system to allow automated closed loop interaction by a digital light projector. Thus far it has been used for micro-scale augmented reality and photosensitivity testing of different micro-systems.
Exploitation Route The development of a low cost device for optical micro-patterning could have implications in many areas in which localised light interaction on the micro-scale in important. These include synthetic biology, optogentics and micro/nano swarm engineering. Currently, there is interest in using the DOME to target specific cancer cells in a population to test the reaction of a tumor environment to heterogeneous stimuli, as well as interest in using the DOME as a tool for small scale assembly.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology