Bacteria are wishing you a Merry Xmas

December 22, 2014 by Lee Page, University of Warwick

A bacterium has been used to wish people a Merry Xmas. Grown by Dr Munehiro Asally, an Assistant Professor at the University of Warwick, the letters used to spell MERRY XMAS are made of Bacillus subtilis, a non-pathogenic bacterium which is found in soil and also human gut.

Artificially engineered into biofilms, a structured community of microbes that can form 3D architectural patterns, the letters are 2mm wide but are made up of individual microscopic bacteria cells.

Initially left to the grow on an agar plate at 30°C for 14 hours, Dr Asally used metal stamps to encourage the biofilms to continue to growing in the shape of the letter for a further 12 hours.

Biofilms can be encouraged to grow in the shape of the letters because bacteria can naturally work together to form structures that help individual cells to survive.

Dr Asally explains:

"Whilst we may think that bacteria are solitary , they are in fact social and in nature almost exclusively exist in the form of structured communities.

"In forming , such as the letters, bacteria act collectively to form the structure. Physical forces are excreted by localised cell death, a process which produces the structure's shape – which then protects and supports the living cells.

Dr Asally, the leader of the Systems and Synthetic Microbiology Lab in the School of Life Sciences and Warwick Centre for Integrative Synthetic Biology (WISB), aims to investigate, amongst other matters, the physical and biological interactions behind biofilm structures.

Explore further: 'Bacterial raincoat' found to protect bacteria from the environment

Related Stories

Genes that make bacteria make up their minds

March 30, 2009

Bacteria are single cell organisms with no nervous system or brain. So how do individual bacterial cells living as part of a complex community called a biofilm "decide" between different physiological processes (such as movement ...

Small molecule triggers bacterial community

December 22, 2008

While bacterial cells tend to be rather solitary individuals, they are also known to form intricately structured communities called biofilms. But until now, no one has known the mechanisms that cause isolated bacteria to ...

Key to pathogenic slime uncovered

September 3, 2014

( —Dental plaque, the sludge in hot springs and black slime inside of toilets are all examples of biofilms, made of slick communities of bacteria that also play roles in many diseases.

Recommended for you

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

NASA instruments image fireball over Bering Sea

March 22, 2019

On Dec. 18, 2018, a large "fireball—the term used for exceptionally bright meteors that are visible over a wide area—exploded about 16 miles (26 kilometers) above the Bering Sea. The explosion unleashed an estimated 173 ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.