Chips can listen to bacteria

Added On March 2, 2014

When you think about bacteria, you think about them as single cells.

But scientists have found that they form  very intricate communities called biofilms. So U.S. scientists developed a chip that can listen to their communications. 
This has important implications in public health.
A team of Columbia University professors has accomplished a state-of-the-art integration of computer circuit technology and biology. They have developed a chip that can listen to the communications of bacteria. 
The integrated circuit chip is similar to the ones used in regular computers or smart phones and measures electrochemical signals the bacteria use to "talk to each other".
SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH) KEN SHEPARD, CU Professor of Electrical Engineering:
"It's a combination of what you would traditionally think of the life sciences or even biotechnology and semi-conductors. So these are basically two industries or areas of research that normally don't intersect much or don't intersect at all. And there are multiple places of convergence now where people were able to take advantage of this very mature technology, this very well developed electronics technology and use it to do things that you never thought you could do with it before." 
The new technology is especially interesting for future use in hospitals that are increasingly plagued by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, so-called "superbugs". 
The resistance of bacteria against common antibiotics is directly linked to the way they communicate with each other and as a result build bacteria colonies that are difficult to destroy. 
SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH) LARS DIETRICH, CU Assistant Professor Biology:
"We want to understand how bacteria actually communicate, how they talk to each other. And usually, when you think about bacteria, you think about them as single cells but what we now realize from many other research is that they actually come together in communities. And they form these very intricate communities called biofilms. And they are actually big problems in disease, for example many forms of infection. They actually harbor biofilms and then are antibiotic-resistant. And biofilms grow in medical devices and that' s a huge problem that we want to fight." 
The Columbia University research project has been going on for two and a half years and they are going to discover more.