A gene "genie" grants researchers valuable data about microbes through puffs of gas from the soil. The latest version is a robust two-stage microbial sensor that will help bioengineers, geobiologists and other researchers observe gene expression and the bioavailability of nutrients in laboratory facsimiles of environments like soil and sediments without disturbing them. The gas is produced by microbes genetically engineered to report on both their environment and activity and mixed into soil samples in contained laboratory experiments. One gas that seeps out tells researchers how many of the target microbes are present and a second gas tells researchers what the microbes are doing. Eventually, the team would like the programmed microbes to reveal whether and how they communicate with each other.
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