Picture This Lab

Teacher Considerations

Picture This activity

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Quick Guide Picture This

View Lab Quick Guide

Picture This Poster

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The Picture This lab consists of three activities that focus on the modeling and design of biocircuits. Students examine a two component sensing system that has been engineered to produce bacterial photographs. Picture This activities include a downloadable program to model the genetic system and change experimental parameters, an exercise to model the same system using electronic parts on a bread board, and an opportunity to send a stencil that will be turned into a bacterial photograph. While there is little emphasis on lab techniques, these activities provide the students with the opportunity to engage in modeling, an important engineering and scientific tool. They can then engage in discussions about the purpose and value of modeling and the strength of the analogy each model provides. It is recommended that the students read Chapter 8 in the BioBuilder Textbook for more information about the two component signaling system modeled in this lab.

Download poster for the lab

Download Quick Guide for the lab

Download Chapter 8: Picture This, from the BioBuilder Textbook

Sample Unit Plans

Some helpful background content and skills


  • DNA Basics: what it is and how it works
  • Gene Expression: Transcription, Translation, Operons
  • Recombinant DNA: Restriction enzymes, cloning, selection with antibiotic resistance


  • Pipetting
  • Measuring cell density with a spectrophotometer
  • Basic microbiology skills: Culturing bacteria, Aseptic technique, Antibiotic resistance, Population dynamics
Some lab materials to have on hand
  • HARDWARE: Some basic biology laboratory equipment such as glassware, pipets, a water bath or heat block to heat samples, an icebucket or styrofoam cup to cool samples, 4C fridge and ice-cold freezer (ideally to -20C) to store samples, a stir plate to mix samples, and an incubator to grow samples (though room temperature can work too). Some additional experiments might need a chemical hood, electrophoresis chambers, spectrophotometer, or a PCR machine.
  • CONSUMABLES: Some basic consumable laboratory equipment such as pipet tips, plastic tubes, growth media, petri dishes, toothpicks, spreaders, sterile loops, bleach or the like for decontamination and disposal of bioreagents. Some additional experiments might need additional consumables such as gel running buffers, loading buffers, stains to visualize DNA or proteins, cuvettes, PCR master mix, or an autoclave for sterilizing reagents.

BioBuilder Classroom


Download Chapter 8: Picture This, from the BioBuilder Textbook

Download an article describing this assignment.


Download Intro To SynBio video lesson

Download Standards & Measurement video lesson


Intro to SynBio Standards and Measurements


Picture This Poster

Download Poster

Quick Guide Picture This

Download Quick Guide

Picture This

Download comic strip

BioBuilder Lab

Lab Materials

Download Quick Guide for the lab

Link to components for electronics build
Link to download Tinkercell
Link to request Bactograph reagents from Tabor Lab at Rice University


Download lab Intro for Picture This_v1

Protocols and Handouts

Step by step Electronics Build (OpAmp version), with photos

Step by step Tinkercell model, with photos

Analysis and Feedback

Submit your Data

Eau That Smell Sample Data

When the students have finished their experiments, ask them to upload their data to the BioBuilder site to see how their measurements compare to what other BioBuilders around the country have seen. Email BioBuilder for the passcode to enter the data sharing portal.