Hydra: a brief glimpse of immortality

Hydra is a minute predatory animal found in unpolluted fresh-water water courses. The body of ths animal is usually anchored to a surface and when feeding they extend tentacles which then wait for prey contact. On contact, specialized cells on the tentacles called nematocysts fire dart-like threads into the prey which then discharge paralysing neurotoxins into the prey.

Hydra considered to be biologically immortal, that is they do not age, and Hydra stems cells have the capacity for indefinite self renewal. Hydra also have enormous regeneration capacity and if an intact Hydra is broken down to just single cells, in a few days it will reconstitute itself into a once more perfect animal. Here are a few videos of this remarkable animal.

Project Cladophora: update

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Cladophora is genus of reticulated filamentous and photosynthetic green algae. Commonly known as blanket weed, this is a very common and cosmopolitan pond algae, and the dense growth of its hair-like green strands that float under, or on the surface, can be a major nuisance.  Beyond this annoyance, Cladophora is an extraordinarily fast growing filamentous algae and can grow up to two meters a day. Now seems to be the time to  capture its remarkable properties and I am now investigating  the possibility of using this algae as a sustainable source of natural fibres that could be woven to produce textiles similar to wool and cotton for example. Scientists at C-MOULD are now ramping up production of this algae for further testing and textile production. Macroscopic and microscopic (100x) views

Project Indigo: IndoChrome

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The overall aim of Project Indigo is to replace the synthetic version of the dye indigo ,which is used in the fashion industry to colour denim and jeans, with a natural and sustainable version or  alternative.  

One avenue of investigation is the possible use of IndoChrome as a replacement. This natual dye is produced by the bacterium Arthrobacter polychromogenes, and is a deep blue pigment with a coppery metallic sheen. Here the bacterium is grown on agar and then on a cotton test satch.

The Sensitive Cloth

The dark stain left behind, as a consequence of  the heat of my body denaturing the enzyme needed for light production

The dark stain left behind, as a consequence of the heat of my body denaturing the enzyme needed for light production

My thumb pressing on the fabric

My thumb pressing on the fabric

The fabric in the dark

The fabric in the dark

The fabric in daylight

The fabric in daylight

This is a unique fabric infused with the bioluminescent bacterium Photobacterium phosphoreum. In the dark it emits an ethereal blue light and I gain a great sense of privilidge being able to grasp its cold light in my gloved hand. The production of light though is exquisitely sensitive to temperature, and as this increases beyond 20 C, light production begins to dim until eventually expires completely. When I hold the cloth tightly between my thumb and palm, the heat of my body causes the light to fade, leaving a very human stain on the fabric. I’m exploring using this as a metaphor, to reflect the temperature changes envisaged with global warming but would of course have to use Silk.

Therapeutic Textiles: anxiolytic clothing

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Mycobacteria are an important group of bacteria which includes pathogens known to cause serious diseases in humans, including tuberculosis (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) and leprosy (Mycobacterium leprae). Whilst the diseases caused by this genus of bacteria can be devastating, there is a positive side to it. Mycobacterium vaccae, is ubiquitous in soil, and exposure to it has been shown to reduce anxiety, and through this effect, the ability to learn.

This is a textile which is impregnated with Mycobacterium vaccae, so that garments made with it would gently expose their wearers to a natural anxiolytic (anti-anxiety medication)and reduce levels of anxiety and stress.

Mycobacteria have an unusual, waxy coating which makes them impervious to standard staining methods, such as the Gram stain. However, the Ziehl–Neelsen stain, also known as the acid-fast stain, is a specially developed stain that can be used on these bacteria. Here some textile swatches impregnated with Mycobacterium vaccae have been stained in this manner to reveal the bacteria. The first stain component carbol fuchsin stains both the bacteria and material but when this is destained with acid-alcohol, the textile loses the dye but the acid-fast bacteria, because of their thick and waxy lipid layer retain the first red dye. When the counter stain is applied, the non-acid-fast material stains blue and the acid-fast bacteria  retain the carbol fuchsin and appear red.

Insidious Strings

The pollution of our oceans, and the Earth’s other environments, by plastic debris has become a visible familiar to most of us. Most people are aware of this in its visible form, that is plastic pollution in the form of containers and bottles. It is, however, the less visible forms of plastic pollution, the so-called microplastics that are likely to represent a greater risk to the animals and plants of the oceans that their more visible counterpart. This is because a range of organisms can ingest these particles and this can transfer and concentrate chemical pollution into the marine food chain. Microplastics can range in size from a few millimetres , to being invisible to the naked eye, and it is likely that this is the most abundant form of plastic debris pollution. One particularly, insidious form of microplastic pollution comes in the form of microfibers, invisible threads of artificial polymer (acrylic, nylon etc.) that slough of our clothes, and which after the washing of clothes, pass through our sewage treatment plants in huge numbers, into rivers, and thence the oceans. In some places, these fibres make up some 80% of the microplastics found in the sea and in a recent study not a single beach was found to be free of this insidious and synthetic lint.

The images that follow are the outcome of arts research project that I carried out 200km north of the arctic circle, in order to demonstrate the ubiquity of this insidious pollutant. Nearly, all of our clothes as they are manufactured, or when they are washed, are doped with compounds called optical brighteners. These synthetic agents work by fluorescing, that is they absorb ultraviolet light (from sunlight or artificial lighting), and reemit the radiation at a different and visible wavelength, making the clothing appear brighter or whiter than it would otherwise be. With this knowledge, I knew that this normally overlooked type of pollutant would reveal itself if exposed to ultraviolet light, in that it would appear to glow. What I found was that in this naturally pristine environment, there was an astonishing amount of microfibre pollution, that revealed itself as tiny coloured and glowing threads against the backdrop of the non-fluorescent snow. In the images, the threads appear vibrate and this is because I lacked a tripod to steady the camera. Nevertheless, I really like the effect, as these small vibrating strings seem to mimic the activity of the natural aurora that was overhead at the time.

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BioTextile Designs

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These were some experiments that I did a while ago with Kate Goldsworthy who is part of the TED group at Chelsea College of Art and Design. They are designs made using the living red pigmented bacteria Serratia marscens and the biolouminescent bacterium Photobacterium phosphoreum, and a very cool laser cutter! The laser kills the bacteria where they are in contact with its beam and this can be used to make some very fine designs.