Bixels DNA Tetris

We are increasingly seeing the hybridization of biology with technology. Such hybrid products and services have begun to enter our everyday lives. Examples include, the bio-fabrication of human tissue for surgical repair and personalized medicine emerging from the rise of computational biology. The intentional blend of the natural and digital worlds will permeate our society and disrupt our traditional notions of technology.

This hybridization has demanded a new kind of cross disciplinary design-thinking which includes common fields of science and engineering, while also being more inclusive of the arts. We now have the ability to manufacture biological components that can act as interfaces (inputs and outputs) with our environments. These advancements offer new experiences that will fundamentally change the way we interface with our world, our bodies and each other.

However skills, tools and knowledge in this area are often not accessible to the general public. We are here to change that, with education and public engagement as our goals. This is how the idea of Bixels was born.

Bixels allows you to design, create and interact with your personal 8x8 bio-pixel display, such as making pictures, gifs and a variation of simple games - while learning about the basics of how to program with DNA and to build a biological circuit in comparison to traditional code and electronic circuits. In addition it demonstrates the possibilities of interacting with biological materials through physics and material explorations.

We decided to use gamification to allow a wi(l)der range of applications and explorations of biological interfaces. Therefore, Bixels -a biological pixel- is built in form of an 8x8 cartridge that works as a digital display. Each fluorescent pixel is programmed using DNA. For example, we use a DNA circuit to produce green fluorescent protein (GFP), the same material that give jellyfish their colour – this protein is already used in lab experiments…. but we thought that it can be used for more. The underlying LED matrix allows you to excite different fluorescent proteins (make them glow) through different light wavelengths in combination with filters. We designed it in a way that you can turn on/off bio-pixel through a simple app.

Bixels believes in the potential and need for STEAM education products and curriculums. Bixels is therefore integrated in a STEAM curriculum using gamification as base. Bixels is a primitive DNA programmed bio-display that enables you to play tetris and other retro classics while teaching physics, computation, biology and digital fabrication. The curriculum around Bixels uses the example of Pixels, which have their origin in photography and are enabled by combining chemistry, physics and art. Today Pixels are defined as the basic unit of programmable color. Bixels builds on this and teaches about

  • Biology through teaching about fluorescent proteins, their origin and how to produce them 
  • Physics through teaching how to visualize fluorescent proteins with light waves and optical filters
  • Computation and electronics through teaching how to interact and control them through programming LED arrays and their color
  • Digital Fabrication and Design through teaching how to integrate the proteins into and with different materials for future products and manufacturing methods

Bixels is inspired by common lab equipment and activities within biological laboratories and designed as product to allow a wider audience take place in those explorations.

Nevertheless, we love its roots and its community. Bixels can be as well used as a transilluminator and simple plate reader in a lab environment. Those are lab equipments which allow scientists to visualize if their experiments worked.

It is built with cell-free technology. Our cell-free technology pulls the molecular machinery (or transcriptional/translation TXTL machinery) outside of a cell meaning there is no regulation or restrictions to use outside a lab.  This extracted billion year old processor is responsible for reading DNA and writing proteins. While games consoles use code to program, cell-free uses DNA.

DNA >>Transcription>> RNA >>Translation >> Protein

Bixels is an open-source project and available on Github and YouTube.