Concept Sketch: Probiotic Phone


Your phone really is a part of you. The unique microbial life that calls you home, also camps out on your phone. For better or worse we are learning that the microbiome, the unique population of organisms that live on and in our bodies, can have dramatic impacts on our health and well being. When we move, our microbiome moves with us. When we drink diet soda, we alter how our microbome behaves.

What we eat, how we dress, the objects we hold all impact and are impacted by our microbial life. It's time we consider how to work with our bacteria and fungi rather than just against them.

The Challenge

President Obama recently laid out a strategy to combat antibiotic resistance, including creating tasks forces, surveillance programs, increasing production of new antibiotics, and funds to help promote rapid on-site testing. All of this language (and strategy) however misses a big point- that continuing a WAR like stance on bacteria IS the problem. Developing more anti-biotics doesn't end the resistance, it just changes the ammunition, it extends the zero-sum game. Instead, we should be creating research and development programs to make surfaces that acquire and cultivate beneficial bacteria communities that can fight the resistance themselves. That uses an individuals healthy bacterial communities to our own advantage.

The Biology

Leaf-cutter Ants have been fending off aggressive fungi and bacterial attacks for millions of years. Leaf-cutter ants have one of the most efficient systems of converting foliage into food, one nest can strip an entire tree of leaves in a day. Yet they don't eat the leaves, they grow a mono-culture fungi. This fungi makes up the majority of their diet, if the fungi crop dies- so do the ants. Yet, these ants have been able to keep anti-biotic resistant bacteria from destroying them for millions of years!

In some species every leaf-cutter ant has a special pouch that houses a unique micro-biome including a filamentous bacteria. This bacteria community is their defense. It rapidly evolves to keep the fungi safe from all competitors, adapting to new resistant strains faster than any pharmaceutical company. The ants have learned to work with the microbial communities to maintain their own health and productivity.

The Idea


What if every new iPhone came with beneficial bacteria? The iPhone surfaces could have nano structures that afford friendly places for bacteria to settle, and you could buy cleansing wipes containing pro-biotic solutions that are specific to your own micro-biome (as determined by the iBac app). As different as a fingerprint, your own phone could become a breeding ground for your pro-biotic life, creating a positive community of bacteria that spreads wherever you go. It's time to think different - let's include bacteria in our health strategy rather than just trying to kill them.

LikoLab is working today on developing the next generation of technologies that will allow us to make, and live with beneficial organisms. If you are interested in joining us, please let us know.