Some Brief Notes On the Origin Snow: Bioprecipitation and Supersymmetry

 

Globe

Globe

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Supersymmetry

Supersymmetry

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Supersymmetry

Supersymmetry

The formation of ice in clouds is a prerequisite for the formation of snow and most rainfall, with dust and soot particles able to initiate its formation by acting as ice nuclei.  Certain species of bacteria, however, are able to catalyse ice formation at temperatures as warm as -2 degrees C and thus at a temperatures far higher than most non-biological , organic or inorganic substances are able to. Consequently, atmospheric bacteria are likely to play a vital role in initiating rain and snowfall.  It has also been suggested that bacteria present in clouds may have evolved to use rainfall as a means of dispersing themselves, in that rain or snow forms their return journey to earth, so that these organisms form part of a constant feedback system between terrestrial ecosystems and clouds.

Here I caught snowflakes and then carefully nurtured their ice-nucleating bacterial cores into vibrant life. The form which I have labelled Supersymmetry, seems to possess a biological form of this complex property, and it’s easy to imagine this energy leaking into the atmosphere and ordering water into ice.  On the other hand, the form which I call Globe seems to mimic the very silence of snow.

MycoCouture: BioSuede

The Stilon Mould being cultured

The Stilon Mould being cultured

Close up of the surface

Close up of the surface

Surface close up

Surface close up

Close up of the surface showing its hydrophobic/water repelling properties. The water forms a bead and rolls off

Close up of the surface showing its hydrophobic/water repelling properties. The water forms a bead and rolls off

Close up of the surface

Close up of the surface

Close up of the surface

Close up of the surface

Culture of the Roquefort Mould

Culture of the Roquefort Mould

The Camembert Mould being cultured

The Camembert Mould being cultured

The Camembert Mould being cultured

The Camembert Mould being cultured

The Camembert Mould being cultured

The Camembert Mould being cultured

The materials after harvest

The materials after harvest

The materials after harvest

The materials after harvest

The Camembert Mould being cultured

The Camembert Mould being cultured

How many  of us ever consider the role played by the humble fungus when we’re cutting through the skin-like rind of Camembert or indulging in the deep and pungent flavours of Stilton or Roquefort ? Not many of us I suspect, but without these microbes none of the cheeses above would exist.

Beyond their obvious roles in generating the flavour of the cheeses, they have other remarkable and often overlooked properties.  For example, in the case of Camembert the mould generates the rind, a highly complex living surface that protects the cheese, and defends it against microorganisms that would otherwise  spoil its nutritious and creamy interior.  These properties might one day form the basis of smart and functional materials, that would be both self-cleaning or sterilizing.

Taking inspiration, from scientists at the Institute for Chemical and Bio-Engineering in Zurich, myself and artist Ninela Ivanova, isolated the moulds from Camembert, Stilton and Roquefort and simply cultured them on the surface of milk to make these remarkable textiles which are essentially a living fungal biofilm. The materials have the appearance of suede but are strongly hydrophobic, that is, they strongly repel water, which if applied to textile forms small beads and simply rolls off. A microbiological and sustainable version of  GortexTM, may be just around the corner ; – )

BioDyes

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How often do we think about the origin of the dyes used to colour our clothing. Almost, without exception they are, synthetic, and also the products of unsustainable chemical processes. This brightly coloured design on cotton is made entirely from naturally pigmented bacteria. It is natural, sustainable and also alive.

The Residues of Texts

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Long after we’ve swiped and tapped our smart phones, sent or received personal texts, our devices retain a biological history of our actions. The glyphs here are formed from the agents that harbour this history, the body’s invisible bacterial flora, that now that the messages have been electronically received or delivered, still represent a tangible residue of our manifold hellos and goodbyes.

Biological Spar Box II

Daylight

Daylight

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UV Light

UV Light

Daylight

Daylight

UV Light

UV Light

Daylight

Daylight

UV Light

UV Light

Daylight

Daylight

Covered in dust, in a neglected storage area in one of our laboratories is another box labelled “AHLC Lichens”. As you might expect, the box contains collection of  Lichens colony. These beautiful, almost crystalline life forms slowly animate the rocks and branches that they are attached to.  I’ve discovered that many Lichens fluoresce under ultraviolet light, that is they absorb its energy and then re-emit it at a different and visible wavelength. In simpler terms, they glow in many different colours when exposed to UV light and their appearance is transformed entirely. I am minded of Spar-Boxes , a type of folk art unique to the North Pennines, and which were simple cabinets built by miners to display glittering fluorspar crystals and other minerals unearthed during lead mining. This is my Biological Spar Box, made using Lichens and the property of fluorescence, and is a memorial to the late Dr Tony Chamberlain whose Lichen samples they were.

The Smart Phone As A Vector

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Bacteria can utilize many different things as vectors in order to promote their transmission. Insects, water, food, coughs and sneezes, sexual contact, and rain are just a few examples. The mobile phone appears to be no exception this rule. As part of BMS1035 Practical and Biomedical Bacteriology, an undergraduate module that I run, I get the students to to imprint their mobile phones onto bacteriological growth media so that we might determine what they might carry. From these results, it seems that the mobile phone doesn’t just remember telephone numbers, but also harbours a history of our personal and physical contacts such as other people, soil, etc.

The Unnecessary Synthesis of Prontosil: II

 

Today we take antibiotics very much for granted and face a serious problem with the emergence of widespread bacterial antibiotic resistance as a consequence of their inappropriate use.  In the years before 1935, bacterial infections were a deadly and an ever-present risk with people routinely dying after very minor scratches or cuts that became infected.  This all changed following Gerhard Domagk’s research on Prontosil, which became the first commercially available antibiotic. In its time, Prontosil was seen very much as miracle drug since after taking it patients who were near-death were revived and became healthy again within hours. Penicillin is often credited as the first antibiotic, but in fact Prontosil had been used to effectively treat bacterial infections for nearly a decade before penicillin became available. Dogmak’s work thus helped to save the lives of many millions. This process deliberately trivialises the synthesis of what was once a valuable wonder-drug and asks us to imagine a future where today’s life-saving antibiotics will be ineffective and similarly be put to inconsequential use.

In this video two precursors of Prontosil  are added seperately to a textile. As these chemicals diffuse through the medium, Prontosil forms at the interface where they meet.

Apartheid in Red and White

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The bacterium Serratia marcescens produces the red pigment prodigiosin and thus grows as red coloured colonies. Production of this pigment is metabolically expensive for the cells and when they are grown in the relative comfort of rich laboratory medium, they no longer need to produce prodigiosin, and in the absence of natural selection for this property, they loose the ability to produce it. In these images white non-pigment producing cells are segregating away from the parental red strain, and beginning the evolutionary journey into a new species.

Cold Blue Plasma

 

A small beaker containing bioluminescent bacteria. Teslaesque but purely biological.