Green Man: a myth from the near future


The Green Man is an enigma spanning thousands of years of history, and a myth with mysterious origins. The influence of this vegetative deity permeates various faiths and cultures, and has survived countless cultural transformations, enduring, in more or less the same physical form, to this day. One of the most common interpretations of the Green Man is that of a pagan nature spirit, a symbol of humankind’s reliance on, and union with, nature, as a symbol of the underlying life-force, and of the renewed cycle of growth each Spring. This new project seeks to extend this powerful and ingrained mythology, by using emerging technologies, to generate a novel human/plant  transspecies.

Green Man then is an ongoing art-science research project exploring the development of a novel plant/human hybrid, by replicating, and perhaps even improving, ancient evolutionary processes that led to the evolution of complex life on Earth. Endosymbiosis, is a hypothesised process by which bacterial cells, and their uptake by primitive cells,  gave rise to the first complex eukaryotic cells. Two endosymbiotic events are well supported by research. Mitochondria are one of the many different types of organelles in nearly all eukaryotes, and in particular these generate energy. These organelles  are thought to have originated from Proteobacteria (Gram-negative bacteria) through endosymbiosis. Similarly, chloroplasts, which allow plants to photosynthesise, most likely originated from Cyanobacteria/Cyanophytes via the same process.

In the context of the above then, The Green Man is a provocative project that seeks to bring about a third and intentional/directed endosymbiosis and its overall aim is to introduce Cyanophytes (photosynthetic cyanobacteria), which will act as proto-chloroplasts, into my human cells and eventually into my  body, so that humanity might be reborn, as at the very least, a partially photosynthetic life form.

Phase 1. 0. Cyanophyte Culture

In this first stage of the project,  a variety of different Cyanophytes were cultured and characterised for suitability to function as  protochloroplasts. One particular strain, SynX14 was selected as the most promising candidate. See the images below:


The Cyanophyte (proto-chloroplast) SynX14 growing on BG-11 agar.



The Cyanophyte (proto-chloroplast) SynX14 growing on BG-11 agar. 10x magnification of the photosynthetic colonies.


The Cyanophyte (proto-chloroplast) SynX14 growing on BG-11 agar. 10x magnification of the photosynthetic colonies.


The Cyanophyte (proto-chloroplast) SynX14 growing on BG-11 agar. 10x magnification of the photosynthetic colonies.


For various reasons, such a cell-shape, inability to to taken up into the cytoplasm of my human cells,  the following Cyanophytes were rejected. Nevertheless, they are all still profoundly beautiful and fascinating life forms.





Phase 2.0. Cyanophyte Transfection

Having selected a suitable photosynthetic cyanotype, the next step of this project was to empower this bacterium with the ability to invade my human cells so that it could gain access to the cytoplasm of my cells and thus, to begin its evolution into a fully functioning chloroplast.  Bacteria of the Shigella species and enteroinvasive strains of Escherichia coli cause disease by invasion of the colonic epithelium, and this invasive phenotype is mediated by genes carried on 180- to 240-kb plasmids (pINV).   Upon contact with host cells, the bacteria inject, via a molecular syringe, several invasion plasmid antigens (IpaB, IpaC, and IpaA) into the cytoplasm. These bacterial  effector proteins then reprogramme, the biochemistry of the cell and    induce cytoskeletal rearrangements, and membrane changes, that lead to internalization of bacteria into the host cell. Consequently, to generate an invasive form of SynX14 the pINV plasmid was isolated from Shigella, and introduced into the Cyanophyte by electroporation.

In the images and videos below pINV.SynX14 is co-cultured with my own human cells in order to induce invasion of the proto-chloroplast.


pINV.SynX14 in co-culture with my own human cells. The photosynthetic Cyanophytes turn the tissue culture media green.


In the videos below, invasion of my own human cells with pINV.SynX14. 1000-times magnification, Differential Interference Microscopy. The large structures, with distinct intracellular nuclei are me, and the smaller rod-shaped forms are the invasive Cyanophyte pINV.SynX14.








Streptomyces:the small Gods of soil



The bacterium Streptomyces coelicolor is an antibiotic producing soil bacteria. Grown in the lab on microbiological agar it produces a number of dark coloured pigments. It also smells divine, earthy, and reminiscent of a woodland leaf kicking walk in Autumn. Here the bacterium has been incubated for so long,  that the secondary metabolites now blacken the once clear agar, allowing it to, autogenically,  generate its  own black and white aesthetic.



Living Lace

I am currently exploring Helion 15  (a unique photosynthetic biomaterial fashioned from little more than sunlight and air)  with conceptual women’s wear designer Victoria Geaney (Royal College of Art).

We are currently characterising this exciting and unique biomaterial as it forms symbiotic relationships with traditional textiles. As it grows on these textiles. the organism not only infiltrates the fabric fibres and makes the material photosynthetic,  but it also moves beyond the material and onto the surface that holds it making it difficult to determine where the manmade material ends and where the purely biological organism begins.




Hacked Statins


We are pleased to announce yet another addition to C-MOULD, the world’s largest collection of microorganisms for use in art and design, as part of the new microbial gastronomy section.

Monascus purpureus is filamentous fungus noted for its role in the production of red yeast rice (RYR), a traditional fermented food in East Asian areas with a history documented back to the Han dynasty (BC 202-AD 220) in China. Recent studies have shown that this organism is able to produce abundant beneficial secondary metabolites, such as monacolin (a statin) K, γ -amino butyric acid (an antihypertensive), and dimerumic acid (an antioxidant). Monacolin K is a statin and lowers serum cholesterol levels by inhibiting HMG–CoA reductase, the rate-limiting step for cholesterol synthesis in the liver.

The active ingredient in Merck’s  prescription only statin Mevacor,  lovastatin, is actually  identical to monacolin K,  the natural statin produced by Monascus purpureus. Consequently,  availability of this fungus through C-MOULD, gives people the opportunity to grow and produce powerful cholesterol lowering drugs in the comfort of their own homes.

Finally, it also smells divine, a blend of yeasty and orangey aromas.

Confronting the sublime in a small spot of spit


I spat onto a microscope slide and observed it at 1000x magnification with a Differential Interference contrast microscope to reveal a world of biological wonder.

Buccal epithelial cells  from my cheek mucosa float by. The nuclei (defined round structures  within the cell) hold my genome, and thus the genetic makeup for my entire body. The much smaller circle and rod shapes are bacteria from my human microbiota, a small selection of the billions of bacteria that I share my body with.


Buccal cells again but the round cell towards the middle  (again with a clearly visible nucleus) is a neutrophil. This white blood cell forms part of my innate immune system and they quickly congregate at a focus of infection in order to kill invading pathogens. Neutrophils play a key role in the front line defence against bacteria and can kill pathogens by phagocytosis (ingestion), degranulation (release of antibacterial compounds) and neutrophil extracellular traps (networks of fibres made mostly from DNA)

A cluster of neutrophils (towards bottom right) fizzing with antibacterial intent. Neutrophils are a type of cell called a granulocyte as they clearly have granules in their cytoplasm. These granules contain antimicrobial cocktails that are used to kill pathogens. Low counts of neutrophils are termed neutropenia, a condition that makes individuals highly susceptible to infection. Neutropenia, can be congenital, a result of various blood disorders,  or induced as a side effect of chemotherapy.