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Photos: From E. coli to electronics

Single-celled animals might be some of the most important figures in high technology.
By Bill Detwiler, Contributor
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1 of 3 Bill Detwiler/ZDNET

Chart: How Cambrios finds proteins

This sketch provides an overview how Cambrios finds proteins. First, it produces billions of genetically distinct viruses (living creatures that grow on E. Coli bacteria) and then exposes them to a metal. If one or two adhere to the metal, they are kept for further study. Scientists at the company then try to isolate the protein, a product of the microorganism?s metabolism. Once the chemical and physical composition of the protein is determined, Cambrios figures out a way to reproduce it in chemistry labs. This way, they and their customers don?t have to worry about keeping generations of the rare viruses alive and happy to keep producing the crucial ingredient.

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2 of 3 Bill Detwiler/ZDNET

Genetically engineered virus proteins

The proteins, the white glowing bits in the photograph, came from a virus genetically engineered by Cambrios. One end of the protein is attracted to, and sticks to, copper. The other end sticks to cobalt. By dipping a silicon wafer etched with microscopic copper wires in a soup of these proteins, a semiconductor maker can effectively lay down the glue for putting on a layer of cobalt on top of the copper. To put on cobalt, the manufacturer just has to dip the wafer in a second soup. Now, putting an insulating layer on copper?which will connect transistors in chips--requires several expensive steps.

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3 of 3 Bill Detwiler/ZDNET

Glowing green bacteria

No, that?s not an attempt at a smiley face. The bacteria in the Petri dish have been engineered to glow green. The organism is question grows a precursor of artemisinin, an antimalarial drug. Artemisinin grows naturally in mangrove swamps in Asia, but is expensive to harvest. Amyris Biotechnologies hopes to develop a synthetic version of the drug out of genetically engineered bacteria over the next three years.

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