In Texas, researchers at Rice University successfully engineered microbes to have genetic memories of their environment and events and to give off response signals in the form of gas. This could help scientists understand how microbes share information with each other. The modified genes in a microbe’s plasmid have a specific gene that is inserted that activates when there is a chemical of interest, causing the microbe to give off a gas signal in response, and remember that response. Scientists can later search for this genetic change shortly after the microbe was exposed to the chemical or long after the microbe died.
Emily Fulk, a researcher on the project, told Phys, “Inserting detectors sensitive to environmentally relevant chemicals can answer long-standing questions for soil and microbial ecologists.”