Advertisement

MIT researcher proves you could output Doom on a bacteria-powered 1-bit display, and it'd only take 600 years to beat

 The cover of the video game Doom.
The cover of the video game Doom.

First reported by Engadget, MIT bioengineering researcher Lauren Ramlan broke new ground in the ongoing quest to run Doom on everything. In a paper and accompanying video for a semester project, Ramlan proposes running Doom through a 1-bit display of bioluminescent E. coli capable of displaying the game at just shy of three frames per day.

First, a quick clarification on "running" Doom⁠—this is a project focused on displaying Doom in an absurd and nontraditional manner. Like Sam Chiet's Doom in Microsoft Notepad, you'd still need a more traditional computer to output the Doom itself, it's not those E. coli making the calculations.

While a purist might insist that Doom needs to be installed on something for it to be "running" there, like Sick Codes' Doom on a John Deere tractor control module, I think a strict construction only limits us when it comes to appreciating projects like E. coli Doom, Notepad Doom, or Ti-84 calculator Doom powered by moldy potatoes in lieu of a normal battery. I favor a postmodern interpretation of running Doom on anything.

E. coli Doom would arrange the bacteria cells in a grid array to form a 1-bit 32x48 resolution display, with the activation and deactivation of a fluorescence-blocking gene in the cells causing the screen to light up and produce a frame of the game. This would take a really long time though⁠, with full fluorescence requiring 70 minutes, and full deactivation resetting the screen for the next frame only coming after an 8-hour wait. Ramlan estimates that it would take 600 years to finish playing Doom in this manner, and simulated the output of two frames of Doom running through an E. coli screen.

Still, as the researcher jokingly points out, "We are a small handful of generations away from the peak of human engineering." You can check out Ramlan's entire presentation on YouTube, and with her writeup, code, and bibliography as a guide, maybe get started on the multigenerational push to finish E. coli Doom in your garage or something (please do not do this).