How Can Microscopic Yeast Draw the Nautilus Logo? The New Art of Bio-Pointillism – Facts So Romantic

Behold this magazine’s logo in glorious living color! Each dot of pigment is a cluster of yeast cells growing on the “canvas” of a Petri dish.

This organic painting was created by Michael Shen, who’s currently working on his PhD in the NYU synthetic biology lab run by Jef Boeke*. It’s the latest work in a new artistic style the lab has dubbed “bio-pointillism,” which makes use of yeast cells that have been genetically modified to produce certain pigments. Shen says they have at least 10 colors on their palette so far. “If you count different shades of color, it’s closer to 20,” he says.

The lab members didn’t start with a burning desire to make art. The synthetic biologists began creating brightly colored strains of yeast to prove that they could pull off a sophisticated kind of genetic manipulation.

Many labs had previously shown that they could take a yeast cell and insert a piece of foreign DNA that codes for the production of a certain pigment. They could make a yeast cell produce red fluorescent protein, for example, but that trick—producing one well-known protein in one step—wasn’t exciting any more. So the Boeke…

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