The Mutable Text: witnessing evolution. Mutations (changes in a genome sequence) are essential for the evolution of life as they provide both the small and larger scale variations upon which natural selection can operate. The basis for this work, in which the process of mutation is made visible, is a novel phenomenon that I discovered when using bioluminescent bacteria to print glowing text.
Bacteria are the purest manifestation of the genetic code. In these organisms, changes in the DNA sequence of the genome result directly in measurable phenotypes and there is no blending or filtering of its informational content as is the case with higher organisms. Because of this mutations or glitches in the code can become readily visible. Here bioluminescent bacteria (which naturally produce an ethereal blue light) have been used as living and light emitting ink. The light producing process is metabolically expensive for the cells, and consequently Darwinian selective pressure is required to maintain its presence within the population. Here, bioluminescent bacterial cells have been carefully brought to the cusp of an “evolutionary decision” and used to print text. The dark striations within the blue light emitting bioluminescent bacteria are generated by spontaneous mutation, and the production of new variants that no longer possess the ability to produce light, which on the laboratory agar is a burdensome and unnecessary metabolic process. These dark cells are starting to segregate from the light producing parental bacterial population, and therefore, taking the first steps on an evolutionary journey into new species.