ENVIRONMENT
11/18/2010 02:38 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

E. Coli Bacteria Solve Sudoku Puzzle, Programmed By University Of Tokyo Students

New Scientist has the latest scoop on E. coli, but don't worry -- there's no deadly food scare this time. Instead, the notorious bacteria are now solving sudoku puzzles, thanks to some ingenious "programming" from a group of University of Tokyo students.

The team realized that by designing a circuit for the E. coli to follow, it would have a good chance of solving sudoku thanks to the simple set of rules. Using a four-by-four grid, 16 types of the bacteria were assigned a unique genetic identity, and each had the ability to express four different colors to reflect the numerical value of its location.

Various bacteria were given a preset color, just as sudoku puzzles start with some numbers revealed in order to solve the missing digits. They then passed this information through viruses to the unsolved bacteria, which were designed to only accept the data from their same row, column, or grid. Because the genetic information encoded prohibited the receiving bacteria from transforming into the same color as the transmitting bacteria, by process of elimination the puzzle was solved.

According to New Scientist, the project's team leader, Ryo Taniuchi, claims the process can be expanded to use 81 types of E. coli bacteria to solve an entire nine-by-nine grid sudoku puzzle.

As MNN reports, this isn't the first time the infamous bacteria have been able to solve puzzles. In 2008, scientists managed to turn E. coli into simple computers to solve the "burnt pancake problem." In an interview with NPR at the time, Dr. Karmella Haynes even joked about E. coli eventually solving sudoku problems.

The sudoku-solving bacteria project was a part of MIT's International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition. More info is available HERE.