Streptomyces coelicolor

Strep1

Just a straight foward photograph of the common soil bacterium Streptomyces coelicolor, reavealing its inherent complexity and beauty. These  bacteria are notable because they have a highly complex secondary metabolism through which they many clinically useful antibiotics and compounds. They are the microbial world’s chemists.

Experiments with the Golden Bacillus: BioGems and Probiotic Jewellry

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 Mycobacterium vaccae (The Golden Bacillus),  is a ubiquitous and natural soil bacterium that  you are likely  to ingest or inhale  when  you spend time in natural environments. In mice, exposure to this bacterium has been shown to  stimulate the growth of certain neurons in the brain, resulting in increased levels of serotonin, and through this decreased anxiety. In addition to this, mice which have been fed live M. vaccae navigate mazes twice as fast as controls suggesting that exposure to this bacteria may also improve the ability to learn new tasks. Here, cultures of M. vaccae have been processed into novel crystalline forms, which are the basis of a novel concept for BioGems.  These will later be incorporated into a range of provocative probiotic jewellery,  that not only looks attractive, but might also improve the health of the wearer. Other applications might include BioSequins for probiotic attire, and also probiotic body creams and perfumes.

Self-Portraits. Media: personal bacterial microflora, crystal violet, iodine and saffranin

The works as they would appear under a microscope. They are made up of billions of differentially stained bacterial cells from my own body.

The works as they would appear under a microscope. They are made up of billions of differentially stained bacterial cells from my own body.

Gram1

A macroscopic self-portrait

Gram2

A macroscopic self-portrait

IMG_9753

A macroscopic self-portrait

IMG_9755

A macroscopic self-portrait. No man is an island

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A macroscopic self-portrait. No man is an island

The Gram stain is the most important staining technique used in bacteriology and is almost always the first step in identifying an unknown bacterium. It distinguishes two key types of bacteria, those that are Gram-positive (these stain purple) and those that are Gram-negative bacteria (these stain pink). The stain is usually made on a small section of a glass slide and the bacteria then observed under one 1000-times magnification using a microscope. Here I decided to adapt the Gram staining technique to investigate my own bacterial microflora, that is to use it to reveal my own Dark Biology. I see this process as a form of self-portraiture and thus decided to forego the use of a microscope and to instead increase the size of the area of the stained bacteria so that the art work would be the same size as a more conventional self-portrait. These images then are macroscopic self-portraits made from my own microscopic flora. The swathes of purple, gold, and red are in fact made by the specific staining of billions of individual bacteria cells and when the works are observed under a microscope, this reality is revealed and they are found to comprise of a multitude of microscopic and coloured dots and rods (the shape of the bacterial cells). Being made of an aspect of myself, I find the self-portraits intensely personal and also think of them as a  form of microscopic pointillism.

Physarum polycephalum: visible and UV light diptychs

   

Daylight

Daylight

Daylight

Daylight

Daylight

Daylight

UV light

UV light

UV light

UV light

UV light

UV light

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.

Die Urpflanze: Proteus laboratorium sp. nov.

U3Shortly 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.

Two Cultures: Bacillus mycoides and Serratia marcescens

Two Cultures

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.