Liver cancer is one of the most difficult cancers to detect, but synthetic biologist Tal Danino had a left-field thought: What if we could create a probiotic, edible bacteria that was “programmed” to find liver tumors? His insight exploits something we’re just beginning to understand about bacteria: their power of quorum sensing, or doing something together once they reach critical mass. Danino, a TED Fellow, explains how quorum sensing works — and how clever bacteria working together could someday change cancer treatment.

Tal Danino explores the emerging frontier of combining biology and engineering (and art). He is a 2015 TED Fellow.

Tal Danino’s research focuses on understanding how networks of genes interact in biological systems, and developing design principles to re-engineer new biological behaviors that have practical applications.

He is a postdoctoral fellow at MIT in the Laboratory for Multiscale Regenerative Technologies, Sangeeta Bhatia’s lab, as well as a visiting fellow at the Rockefeller University in New York City. As a postdoctoral fellow, he researches the use of bacteria as cancer diagnostics and therapeutics. His research has been published in scientific journals such as Nature, Science, and Cell.

Danino also develops “Bio-Art” projects that share images and stories about science, as in his recent collaboration with Vik Muniz. In 2015, Tal was selected as a TED Fellow.