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The Petri Dish Goes Digital

Researchers at Caltech have created a new prototype digital petri dish that can send information about what's growing on it to a laptop for further analysis, reports Technology Review's Katharine Gammon. Dubbed the "ePetri," the team created its prototype using Lego blocks and an image sensor from a cell phone. "A sample is placed on top of a small image-sensor chip, which uses an Android phone's LED screen as a light source," Gammon says. "The whole device is placed in an incubator, and the image-sensor chip connects to a laptop outside through a wire." The image sensor then takes pictures of what's growing in the dish in real time, and the laptop puts all the images together. The researchers explain that rather than leaving the cells in an incubator and checking up on them from time to time, scientists can use the ePetri to keep a constant eye on what's growing in the dish. "With ePetri, it's like getting continuous tweets from the cells rather than an occasional postcard," Caltech biologist Michael Elowitz tells Gammon. The researchers, who recently published their paper in PNAS, are working on a self-contained system with its own incubator, which Gammon says could eventually be used in the clinic.

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