Playing classic video games like Pac-Man with living single-celled microbes thinner than a human hair is now possible thanks to a new interactive microscope developed by bioengineers at Stanford University. Ben Gruber reports.
STORY: This is Pac-Man with a very cool twist. Using a newly developed interactive microscope, a user can control the direction a microbe swims in real time. A team at Stanford University has created a device that basically makes microbiology really fun by transforming basic research into video games. It's called a LudusScope and you can build one at home using blueprints and software released this month in the science journal PLOS ONE. (SOUNDBITE) (English) INGMAR RIEDEL-KRUSE, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF BIOENGINEERING, STANFORD UNIVERSITY , SAYING: "It's a microscope that you can 3D print and build yourself. There are two key components to it. On one hand there is a cell phone attached to it and you can do many things through the cell phone interface and the other, which I think is the most important part is that you have a number of LED's additionally that you control with a joystick and thereby you can actually influence the behavior of the cells you see. You turn microscopy from something that is purely observational into something that is interactive." The team wrote software programs that overlay on top of the image of cells as seen through the microscope. This gives a user the ability to choose individual cells and control them using a joystick which, in turn, controls the LED lights. These cells respond to light. A little light attracts them while too much has the opposite effect. In this way the tiny microbes can be guided through a maze or steered though posts to score a goal. The games, according to Riedel-Kruse, evolve into basic research. (SOUNDBITE) (English) INGMAR RIEDEL-KRUSE, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF BIOENGINEERING, STANFORD UNIVERSITY , SAYING: "You can select a cell, track it and collect data about it that you can then analyze and discuss. You can really do simple research in educational settings." The scientists plan on partnering with an educational game firm to further develop the microscope into a science kit. Until then, Riedel-Kruse urges adults and children to download the plans and build their own LudusScope - to find out how much fun microbiology can actually be.