Scientists just love E. coli, don't they? First, they have the little gut microbes solve a game of sudoku. Now, two researchers at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia want to use the little pathogenic packets for transmitting information between nanobots.
Since nano-sized robots are but a futuristic nightmare these days, Maria Gregori and Ignacio Llatser had to make do with a computer simulation. In this microbial Tron world, they encode specific messages in the DNA of various non-pathogenic strains of E. Coli. The nanobots would then release a particular bacterium to send a message, and hopefully the little swimmers would make their way to other virtual nanomachines.
It took one flagellum 6 minutes to swim from one microbot to another, at a distance of 1 millimeter. According to Llaster, that equates to a 1.7 kilobits per second. Not much these days, but then again, the first modem had a baud rate of 25 bits a second. That was good enough then, and for microscopic-level communication, it's more than enough.
Let's just hope that real-world versions of this experiment won't go horribly wrong. The last thing we need is tiny robots armed with food poisoning.