Because we are drawn to the bright and the white, many of the commodities of our daily lives are manufactured to artificially express these properties, and in particular, to make them look cleaner or newer than they actually are. As a consequence of this, much of what we make contains synthetic compounds called optical brighteners. These chemical agents work by fluorescing, that is by absorbing natural (from the sun) or artificial (from standard lighting) ultraviolet light and converting it into other colours of visible blue light, to make objects appear whiter and brighter than they otherwise are. Optical brighteners are thus commonly found in our clothes, washing powders, and importantly here, paper. In these images the slime mould Physarum polycephalum has grown on paper and is observed under normal daylight and also under ultraviolet illumination. Under UV, the paper fluoresces a blue colour because of the optical brighteners in it, whilst the slime mould appears black. This is because it absorbs UV light. This might be a manifestation of a protective mechanism whereby it produces UV absorbing pigments which protects the organism against the damaging effects of sunlight. Such a pigment my offer a natural protective factor for suncream.
Shortly before Johann Wolfgang von Goethe published Die Metamorphose der Pflanzen in 1790, he engaged with the concept of the Archetypal Plant, or the Urpflanze. Whilst there is no reference to the Urpflanze in his book, it is described in his letters to Charlotte von Stein sent by Goethe during his stay in Palermo, Italy.
“Seeing such a variety of new and renewed forms, my old fancy suddenly came back to mind: among this multitude might I not discover the Primal Plant (Urpflanze)?
Die Urpflanze is Goethe’s imagined plant which contains embedded within it, the potential to generate all possible future forms of plant life. Taking inspiration from Goethe, I sought to rediscover Die Urpflanze by isolating primitive plant life, and then by a process of regressive in vitro breeding, return it to its most primitive form. This is what I generated. It contains, the bare necessities for existence, but at once, is also alive with yet unimagined potential. There is a strong resonance between my Urpflanze and Ventner’s concept of the minimal bacterial genome and Mycoplasma laboratorium, a partially synthetic bacterium. Both species are minimalist life forms containing just the genes necessary for an independent existence, yet one is a testament to the emerging powers of synthetic biology, and the other an important reminder that we should not yet forget the powers of natural selection and traditional breeding.
More bi-cultural explorations. As the title says this image is of two cultures. What might not be immediately be apparent though is that the cultures are two species of bacteria, the red one being Serratia marscens and the white tendril-like form, the soil bacterium Bacillus mycoides. The cultures have grown and spread from their original point of inoculation, but then become aware of each other. They appear to be tentatively exploring each other, and perhaps deciding what to next.