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Bacteria Tracked by Cell Phone Camera

A cell phone image sensor that is widely commercially available is being used to help engineers ‘image’ cell cultures. The cell phone sensor, together with a Google smartphone and Lego building blocks is assisting engineers from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena in the United States to develop a ‘smart’ petri dish in which they can image cell cultures.

Guoan Zheng, who is a Caltech graduate student in electrical engineering, says that the ePetri microscopy-imaging platform, which works without lenses, is able to help researchers to directly track the cell or bacteria culture growth in an incubator.

The culture is placed onto the image sensor, and the LED screen of the smartphone is used in the manner of a scanning light source. While the sensor is taking images of the culture, the information is being transferred to a laptop, allowing the researchers to both acquire and save the images of the cell phone even as they grow in real time.

The ePetri platform is not just helping to simplify medical diagnostic tests but it is also proving potentially useful in other areas too, such as the detection of toxic compounds and drug screening.

Michael Elowitz, a Caltech biologist, has been able to observe embryonic stem cells by using the ePetri system. Stem cells placed in different areas of a petri dish can often behave in a very different way, even changing into other, more specialized kinds of cells.