PDMS microfluidic channel network inspired by a circuit board colonised by three E. coli strains that each express a different autofluorescent protein.
Rudolf Schlechter, Rebecca Soffe, Blair Bonnett, Volker Nock, and Mitja Remus-Emsermann
Electronics in form of semiconductor engineering/ thick film/ and printed circuit board (PCB) technology has directly enabled the advent of microfluidics, which has revolutionised microbiology via the Lab-on-a-Chip. Here, we choose to employ such a “synthetic environment” inspired by a PCB board and inoculated with a “synthetic community” to signify the advent of “synthetic ecology”. While the design of the shown PCB inspired chip as a tool for microbial ecology is negligible, the technological advances it embodies are not. Electronics, and semiconductor device manufacturing in particular, have given rise to microfluidic devices and related analytical techniques. The channels incorporated in the latter are used to contain and study microbiological processes, and, in their function, are symbolically equivalent to the traces on a PCB. The particular example shows the possible interactions that can be observed by the mixing of different strains and the avoidance of bacteria to colonise niches on the PDMS chip.
The picture is also a symbol for novel approaches in microbial ecology that are only possible due to close collaborations of engineers with microbiologists. Such collaborations draw from each others knowledge, facilitate each other and push the current boundaries of technology and science.