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You can play Doom using gut bacteria, but the framerate is atrocious

How does one frame per eight-and-a-half hours sound?

Image credit: Lauren "Ren" Ramlan

Is there any greater scientific endeavour than the unending quest to get Doom to run on everything? From teletext to pregnancy tests to tractors to literal rat brains in a jar, every time you think that we’ve exhausted the possibilities, someone finds a new way to play the seminal 30-year-old shooter on something new.

Enter our latest contender for the weirdest/most ingenious way to play Doom yet: using bacteria found in the gut. Specifically, a display made of E. coli bacteria.

The enterprising setup comes from MIT biotechnology PhD student researcher Lauren "Ren" Ramlan, who concepted a 32x48 1-bit display made up of E. coli cells, with each cell effectively serving as an individual pixel by lighting them up as required using a fluorescent protein.

It’s worth noting that Ramlan herself points out that “running” Doom using the cells would be an enormous undertaking due to their extremely limited ability. What she did manage to successfully do, however, is simulate using the wall of cells as a display for Doom by rendering gameplay using the illuminated E. coli.

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Don’t expect to go blasting cacodemons using the lining of your intestines anytime soon, though. For one thing, you’ll be waiting a while. In order to display one frame of the simplified black-and-white gameplay - at a resolution of 32x48 pixels - the cells would take 70 minutes to illuminate and eight hours and 20 minutes to return to their starting state when they no longer needed to be illuminated. In other words, you’re looking at around eight and a half hours to display each individual frame of gameplay - something that makes even the worst framerates look like butter by comparison.

If you’re wondering what that means in reality for trying to play Doom using a bunch of gut bacteria - if you happen to have some lying around - Ramlan helpfully did the maths. If the average playthrough of Doom takes around five hours and the original game runs at 35 frames per second (its capped maximum), the cell display would therefore take 599 years to play Doom from start to finish.

So there you have it: you can theoretically play Doom (or at least display it) using gut bacteria, but the performance is atrocious to say the least. Maybe stick to playing on your calculator for now.

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