Here I have given the the slime mould Physarum polycephalum a choice of five different naturally pigmented bacterial pastes to eat. At first it ignored the bacteria and skirted around them. Next when I provided it with oats it swarmed towards and all over these. Now it has exhausted the oats and begun, perhaps reluctantly, to feed on the bacteria.
In the video, I used a microscope to focus upon the area where it is consuming the blue bacteria, and you can clearly see fragments of the blue bacterial past integrated into the slime mould structure and moving within the cytoplasm.
Here I have given the the slime mould Physarum polycephalum a choice of five different naturally pigmented bacterial pastes to eat.
Here are the results
Time 0: inoculation
Time 0: inoculation. the yellow central organism is the slime mould.
Time 12 hours: At this stage, the slime mould has actively avoided yellow and blue, and ignored red and white as sources of food. If you look carefully, you can see plale slime trails, that are no longer occupied by the slime mould. These are areas of the agar that it investigated but which it found inimical or no source of food.Can yellow and blue be used as a deterent?
Time 20 hours: The slime mould has identified orange as a food source and is beginning to engulf and consume it. If you look carefully, you can see plale slime trails, that are no longer occupied by the slime mould. These are areas of the agar that it investigated but which it found inimical or no source of food. Can organge be used as an attractant?
Time 36 hours: I felt a little sorry for the slime mould on its meagre diet of bacteria so fed it some oats. It’s very clear as to which food source it prefers at the momment
Traditionally, what we consider to be “self” is usually restricted to the collection of 40 trillion or so eukaryote cells that derive directly from the 22,000 genes of our own human genome. However, the “omic” technologies of the 21st century are radically redefining the view that we have of ourselves, so that “self” can now be seen to extend beyond the traditional precinct of our visible form, and to include our resident bacterial community. In fact, our bacterial aspect (the microbiome), containing 100 trillion normally invisible cells, and 2 million microbial genes, dwarfs our eukaryotic genetics and physiology. Recent studies are now beginning to reveal the huge impact of the microbiome on our health and even its ability to modulate our behaviour.
This new project stems from my thought that for every artist, either living today, or dead, that the body’s microbiome, its invisible hundreds of trillions of bacterial cells, would have made at least some contribution to the artist’s work. The inspiration and process, is from joint project that I had with watercolour artist Sarah Roberts to study the interaction of bacteria with traditional watercolours. When we mixed bacteria and watercolours together, we were astounded to discover that the bacteria picked up the pigments, and then moved the watercolours around, in the same way that an artist might paint. The same process is used here, but the bacteria are from my own microbiome, and thus the paintings are unique self-portraits, being direct manifestation of the power, activity and complexity of my other bacterial self.
Now all in one place, a collection of the various books that I have fed to the slime mould Physarum polycephalum over the years. There are books here by Adam Roberts, Neal Stephenson and Phil Smith. The slime mould possesses a primitive intelligence, and I wonder whether it detects changes in the nature of the pages beneath it, in terms of the plan paper and inked text, and if so what it makes of this.
The book was Splinter by Adam Roberts. As I’m apt to do, I fed it to the slime mould Physarum polycephalum, which crawled above it, and then like a microbial Rapunzel, let down these wonderful yellow tendrils.
This was a playful attempt to build a computer based upon an on and off switch controlled by bacterial communication. The bacteria track along the threads (wires) and interact with each other to generate a visual output. The vertical threads contain a colourless genetically modified bacterium (the indicator) that is in effect a mute, but which will turn purple when other bacteria “talk” it. The horizontal threads contain a bacterium that is also colourless but can “talk” to the mute bacterium (the transmitter). The bacteria move up and down the threads and where they interact, and close to the nodes, the indicator bacterium produces a purple pigment as it receives signals from the transmitter. The “computer” as produced an output but what is its meaning?
Traditionally what we consider to be “self” is usually restricted to the collection of 10 trillion or so eukaryote cells that derive directly from our own human genomes. However, the “omic” technologies of the 21st century are radically redefining this view, so that “self” can now be seen to extend beyond the traditional precinct of our visible form, and to include our resident bacterial community. In fact, these normally invisible cells outnumber what we consider to be our own cells, by a factor of ten and contain at least ten times more DNA than our own genome. Recent studies have suggested that our personal bacterial flora, that is our microbiome, can influence our predisposition to gain or loose body weight, and even to alter our moods and ability to learn. This new work explores the vastness of the human microbiome. Please follow the illustrated story below.
The visitor is at first confronted with a beautiful installation of brightly coloured glass, either in the form of stained glass, or cloured glass into which intricate etchings have been made into the colours (below)
The same glass, observed under 20-400x magnification reveals vast and beautiful landscapes, comprised many thousands of microscopic bacterial cells. These are in fact from the body’s microbiome (below).
Finally, the glass is observed at 1000x magnification and the individual bacterial cells that make up the human microbiome can now be seen (below). The final revelation is that this work is made from shit, which has been carefully prepared and stained with specific dyes to reveal the vast numbers of bacteria that are present in it. The work transforms something that is treated with revulsion and disgust, into a profound, and perhaps disturbing, representation of the human microbiome, and its vast complexity.