Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Is that runny nose a cold, or just a new message coming in?

via our West Coast ghost... 
Espionage just got a little more sophisticated and scientific. Invisible ink? Decoder rings? Lemon juice? Puh-lease -- that's mere child's play compared to what double agents scientists at Tufts University just created.

Now secret messages can be hidden in genetically engineered bacteria, thanks to a new method called steganography by printed arrays of microbes, or SPAM. Developed by chemistry professor David Walt and his cloak-and-dagger team of researchers, this new method uses an assortment of E. coli strains modified with fluorescent proteins that glow in seven colors.

Multiply that number by the two colors each message character is encoded with, and spies like us have more than 49 possible code combinations. That's enough for the alphabet, plus digits 0 to 9, with room left over for a few extra symbols...

It is also possible to develop bacteria that lose their fluorescent properties over time, creating a message that self-destructs in the style of Mission Impossible. (more)