Bixels: the biocomputing display

By Russell Barnes. Posted

Irish bio-tech firm Cell-Free Technology has launched a Kickstarter campaign for a “world-first demonstration of a DNA programmed bio-computer that can play Tetris”.

Bixels is an 8×8 grid of ‘bio‑pixels’ that can be controlled from a smartphone. As you can electronically control which Bixels are lit, the Bixels act just like the pixels in your screen.

The DNA is synthetically replicated from the same DNA that allows a jellyfish to glow green – no jellyfish are harmed to make Bixels.

Cell-Free Technology CEO Dr Thomas Meany tells us, “Bixels is a hugely valuable resource for anyone who needs a low-cost way to study fluorescent proteins in a lab, but our real target is STEAM educators.” As Thomas points out, Bixels “incorporates almost every aspect of a STEAM curriculum in a single workshop.”

 As you control which Bixels are lit at any given time, you can play Tetris on a biocomputer! Mix actual DNA with a special ‘cell-free’ liquid in each test tube to create a light-emitting protein.

Bixels: DNA for the masses

Bixels places an 8×8 grid of small test tubes (called PCR tubes) onto an 8×8 grid of RGB NeoPixels (controlled by an Adafruit Bluefruit Feather). By mixing the liquid in the two coloured vials of the kit in each PCR tube, you create a mixture that emits green when the NeoPixel beneath shines blue.

Or, as Thomas explains (very patiently), “The blue vial contains cell-free extract which has the nano-machinery (ribosomes, RNA polymerase, and transcription factors) that, when the DNA is added, can be programmed to produce a protein (in our case fluorescent protein)”. A coloured filter within the Bixels housing ensures only the light emitted by the protein is seen.

Bixels is safe to play with and use because of the unique ‘cell-free’ technology developed by Cell-Free Technology. The ‘bacteriophage infection’ used breaks down cell walls without harming the contents, leaving you with a liquid that can be biologically programmed “without the fear of a bacteria or other organism [forming],” confirms Thomas.

Bixels has a target of €9267 (£8166), with a basic Bixel Solo kit only costing €90 (£79).


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