BioGenic Textile Designs: A BioBatik in Purple and Red

This is a work from a new series of explorations that continue my fascination with purely biogenic designs. The colours and patterns derive directly from nature, and explore its complexity, natural laws, and inherent creativity. Each design also reflects, and is generated by a story, much like a traditional tapestry might be. In this work though, the colours and designs are generated solely by naturally pigmented bacteria, as they move through a silk fabric, interact with each other, and respond to various challenges offered to them.

The textile just after inoculation with the different coloured streaks of the two bacteria clearly visible

The textile just after inoculation with the different coloured streaks of the two bacteria clearly visible

Here is the story of this particular design. Two cultures of pigmented bacteria have been inoculated onto silk in the form of a long streak at either end. The two living cultures are Serratia marcescens (red) and Chromobacterium violaceum (purple). In addition, towards the centre of the silk, four drops of the antibiotic cloxacillin have been introduced onto the fabric to provide a challenge, and in the hope that much like wax does in the Batik Process, these spots might act as a resist (the antibiotic is colourless so these spots are invisible at first).

Both bacterial strains are motile, and thus the bacteria begin to move and swarm through the textile colouring it with their corresponding pigments wherever they are present. In terms of the territory occupied it can be seen the red coloured bacterium has gained the greater share of the silk, and could thus be considered to be the faster moving, and most aggressive species. In the greater territory occupied by the red pigmented bacterium Serratia marcescens, however, there are two undyed circles within the silk, and these correspond to the location of the spots of the antibiotic cloxacillin. This red coloured bacterium is clearly sensitive to the antibiotic and it cannot grow in its presence to colour the silk red.

After 24 hours of incubation. The two bacteria have moved. Red has moved the furthest but the white zones where the four antibiotic spots are clearly visible. The upper zones will later be taken over by the purple coloured bacterium

After 24 hours of incubation. The two bacteria have moved. Red has moved the furthest but the white zones where the four antibiotic spots are, are clearly visible. The upper zones will later be taken over by the purple coloured bacterium

After 24 hours of incubation. The antibiotic spots are clearly visible.

After 24 hours of incubation. The antibiotic spots are clearly visible.

After 24 hours of incubation. The antibiotic spots are clearly visible.

After 24 hours of incubation. The antibiotic spots are clearly visible.

There are two other spots of antibiotic above those that caused the white circles, and the antibiotic has still prevented the growth of Serratia marcescens in these, but here, these Serratia-free zones have been occupied by the purple bacterium, Chromobacterium violaceum, which must be resistant to the antibiotic and which has exploited the antibiotic vulnerability of its competitor, to establish a foothold in its territory.

After 72 hours of incubation. The urple bacterium has now occupied the upper antibiotic zones where the red bacterium could not grow.

After 72 hours of incubation. The urple bacterium has now occupied the upper antibiotic zones where the red bacterium could not grow.

The dried and sterlised textile.

The dried and sterlised textile.

The Search for Microbiomal Scents

Finger tip. Thursday. Dominated by moulds.

Finger tip. Thursday. Dominated by moulds.

Finger tip. Wednesday. Dominated by the soil bacterium Bacillus mycoides. A colony from my microbiome is producing an antibiotic that inhibits the growth of this bacterium and produces a zone of no growth.

Finger tip. Wednesday. Dominated by the soil bacterium Bacillus mycoides. A colony from my microbiome is producing an antibiotic that inhibits the growth of this bacterium and produces a zone of no growth.

Feet

Feet

Smell can evoke the richest of memories, and through this sense our most intimate and affecting moments can be reached more readily than through any other channel. The project is inspired by my own experiences in medical microbiology, and how we were taught to presumtively identify bacterial pathogens on the basis of the aroma that they generate. To this day I can still remember the moment, when in an undergraduate microbiology lab class, the late Joyce Fraser told me that Haemophilus influenza when grown on blood agar smells of semen! She was of course quite correct. Here are some other bacterial aroma notes:

Eikenella corrodens: bleach

Staphyloccocus aureus: skin-like smell with a secondary smell of bread.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa: initial smell of grapes with a secondary smell of tortillas

Group F Beta Hemolytic Streptococcus: strong buttery smell

Stenotrophomonas: ammonia

Staphylococcus epidermidis: body odour

Streptococcus intermedius: butterscotch

Proteus vulgaris: burnt chocolate

Flavobacterium odoratum and Alcaligenes faecalis (formerly Alcaligenes odorans) freshly cut apple

Streptomyces coelicolor: freshly dug soil/autumnal woodlands

Gluconoacetobacter species: vinegar

Clostridium perfringens: horse shit

I’m attempting to generate a highly personalized perfume, that smells of me, or as the many bacteria of my microbiome generate my unique bodily aroma, that also is derived from these prokaryotic cells. This is a first screen to isolate bacteria from my microbiome.

Chalk from the Anthropocene: lime mud

A lump of lime mud. A precursor to chalk made by a culture of Coccolithophora and the sedimentation by its dead cells.

A lump of lime mud. A precursor to chalk made by a culture of Coccolithophora and the sedimentation of  its dead cells.

A lump of lime mud. A precursor to chalk made by a culture of Coccolithophora and the sedimentation by its dead cells.

A lump of lime mud. A precursor to chalk made by a culture of Coccolithophora and the sedimentation of its dead cells.

A lump of lime mud. A precursor to chalk made by a culture of Coccolithophora and the sedimentation by its dead cells.

A lump of lime mud. A precursor to chalk made by a culture of Coccolithophora and the sedimentation of  its dead cells.

Here some lumps of the lime mud have been trapped between two microscope slides and mixed with an acid. This treatment liberates the trapped carbon dioxide which can be seen as bubbles.

Here some lumps of the lime mud have been trapped between two microscope slides and mixed with an acid. This treatment liberates the trapped carbon dioxide which can be seen as bubbles.

Chalk is formed when lime mud is transformed into rock by geological processes. Usually, this calcium carbonate rich mud accumulates on the seafloor, more  calcareous sediment builds up on top of it, and as the sea floor subsides, the lime mud is subjected to heat and pressure. These processes remove water and compact the sediment into rock. The lime mud itself is formed from the skeletons of microscopic plankton, which rain down on the sea floor from the sunlit waters above and a group of microbes called the Coccolithophores are considered to be the most important group of chalk forming plankton. Each individual Coccolithophore cell has a spherical skeleton made from a number of calcium carbonate rich discs called coccoliths which after death, fall to the floor of the oceans to generate lime mud. Most of chalk edifices that we are familiar with formed during the Cretaceous period, between 100 and 60 million years ago, and reflect a period when global temperatures, concentrations of greenhouse gases and sea levels were exceptionally high.

We now live in an age when humans and our activities are having a significant global impact on the Earth’s ecosystems and its climate. The Anthropocene is an informal term for the proposed geological epoch that began when human activities began to have such a global impact including increases in global temperatures, concentrations of greenhouse gases and sea levels. This work explores the parallel between the Cretaceous period and the Anthropocene, in that is seeks to make chalk of Anthropocene origin and which also will  include locked in anthropogenic carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. For a period of six months, air has been bubbled through a culture of mixed Coccolithophora species, and I have been successful in the first steps of chalk production, that is the production of a lime mud, the essential precursor to chalk.

 

Bacillus mycoides

Photographed with a 1:1 macro lens

Photographed with a 1:1 macro lens

The common soil bacterium Bacillus mycoides observed at two different levels of magnification. Using a 1:1 macro lens and at 1000x magnification using DIC microscopy. 

Exploring the Limits of Self: another cell type (red/white blood cells)

These videos are of my own blood with its multitude of haemoglobin carrying red blood cells, interspersed with a few white cells from my immune system. I never imagined my red blood cells being so flexible/fluid. Humbling! 1000x magnification, DIC microscopy.

A Dark Dance

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. In these videos, the bacteria that make up my own gut microbiome have been seperated from other material, in order to reveal their dynamic nature and complexity.