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They're Getting Smarter...

Most people wouldn't think that making E. coli smarter is the best thing to do, but a group of students at the University of Tokyo have taught the microbes to solve logical puzzles, like Sudoku, reports New Scientist's Frank Swain. Beginning with 16 types of E. coli, the students assigned each colony a genetic identity based on which square it occupied on a four-by-four Sudoku grid, and the ability to express one of four colors representing the numerical value of that location, Swain says. Some bacteria were prodded into taking on a specific color, and then they used RNA recombinases packaged in viruses to send information about their color to undifferentiated microbes. "The E. coli are 'programmed' to accept RNA only from cells in the same row, column or block as themselves," Swain says. "The genetic information stored in the viral messages forbids the receiving bacteria from differentiating into the same color as the transmitting bacteria, so by a process of elimination the undifferentiated cells establish which color to adopt to 'solve' the grid." Thus, the more E. coli you have, the bigger the puzzle it can solve. This method could lead to the development of a "biochemical computing device," Swain suggests.

At the Loom, Carl Zimmer takes a moment to "marvel anew at the sophistication" of E. coli. But, he adds, "let's just hope that all the E. coli in our guts don't figure this out on their own..."

The Scan

NFTs for Genome Sharing

Nature News writes that non-fungible tokens could be a way for people to profit from sharing genomic data.

Wastewater Warning System

Time magazine writes that cities and college campuses are monitoring sewage for SARS-CoV-2, an approach officials hope lasts beyond COVID-19.

Networks to Boost Surveillance

Scientific American writes that new organizations and networks aim to improve the ability of developing countries to conduct SARS-CoV-2 genomic surveillance.

Genome Biology Papers on Gastric Cancer Epimutations, BUTTERFLY, GUNC Tool

In Genome Biology this week: recurrent epigenetic mutations in gastric cancer, correction tool for unique molecular identifier-based assays, and more.