glowing bacteria in 5 steps (DIY bio / kitchen biology)


Or, harvest your own glowing bacteria for <$10 using everyday kitchen ingredients / equipment. This’ll be a post-in-progress. But the gist is this:

  1. Buy a small squid (or some shrimp), as fresh and untouched (not cleaned) as possible.
  2. Put it in a covered container (e.g. a gatorade bottle) with some salt water (leave some surfaces exposed! the bacteria need oxygen apparently) for 24 hours in the dark @ room temperature. (aluminum foil, cardboard, and closets are all useful).
    Covered is key as otherwise it STINKS. Yay rotting seafood.
  3. Check for luminescence after 24 hours.
    (I suggest a camera with adjusted exposure settings, since I missed it first time around when checking by naked eye. After realizing it was there, it was definitely visible, even with low-light coming in from the propped open closet door).
  4. If successful (there are glowing bits), sterilize some petri-dish substitute, make some jello with some other nutrients (agar substitute), pick some colonies (sterile toothpick), and plate them.
  5. Profit.  e.g. If 4. is successful (lots of glowing bits), try putting it in a FLASK
    bwahaha evil mad scientist
    Ehem. Or make art. Wikipedia: BioArt.

Sparse picture-set here:

This idea sparked from a post by Macowell (of DIYbio-boston):
with pictures on Flickr:

However, I found the post sparse on some crucial details and the author unresponsive to email, and the DIYbio-boston group seems to be older-than-undergraduate people. Ah well. Anyway, I’m carrying through, and have run 3 variations so far, one of which produced glowing bacteria! yay.

The variations:

  1. Squid from Chinatown. Stuck in pot, completely submerged in overly salty water, for a week (annoyed hallmates with smell)
  2. With Judy, knowledgeable bio and hallmate, bought cleaned squid (kalamari?) from New Deal Fish Market (which is actually a small corner store). See picture @ top of page for result.
    Successful, but we waited another 24 hours to make plates due to hosage, and the bacteria died before we could plate them
  3. Fresh farm-raised squid, at home in ATL — incubated outside — did not see anything glowing, but I was a bit negligent on checking it.
Links I found useful:
For the DIYbio broth formulation, see:

Cool pictures:

See how strong the light can be:

Oh, and email with any questions, I’m on email all the time and always looking for excuses to punt 🙂 If I don’t respond, email me again! It may have gotten spam-filtered or lost in the sea of MIT email.
p.s. it’s bioluminescence, not fluorescence, so you don’t need UV light or any light for the glowing to occur.
p.p.s. for those wary of having to constantly refresh the medium / feed the bacteria, consider how often you have to plug in electronic devices and feed them electricity 🙂
Wait, that would be cool, a common low-cost fuel source for bacterial devices… hmm… Oh yes, power electronics is awesome and the electricity grid is amazing! Stopping to think about the engineering behind it boggles my mind.