Attire to be Worn when Social Networking with Plants


An elegant black dress in which the intricate white patterning is alive and will link its wearer into the soil mycorrhizosphere.  The latter is  a vast network made by symbiotic root  fungi which promotes plant growth  through which plants have recently been shown to communicate forming  a type of information network amongst plants. This is a first experiment. An equal quantity of seeds was added to the two tubes but only one contains mycorrhizal fungi. The results are striking. All done with items available at any garden centre so a little DIY Bio experiment too!

C-MOULD: New acquisitions

Images: Pellicles formed by cellulose nanofibre production by two strains

of Gluconoactobacter xylinus


IMG_1395 IMG_1396

C-MOULD the world’s largest collection of microorganisms for use in art is pleased to announce two new acquisitions. Two strains of Gluconoacetobacter xylinus, which produce  cellulose nanofibres when grown with sugar. They might not look impressive, but these are the basis of Suzanne Lee’s wonderful BioCouture. I’m planning to grow my own building!

Nine Waters (Media: found water and universal indicator)

5 microlitre aliquotes of the pH indicator and water samples were mixed on a hydrophobic surface in order to maintain the integrity of the droplets. Love this one.

5 microlitre aliquotes of the pH indicator and water samples were mixed on a hydrophobic surface in order to maintain the integrity of the droplets. Love this one.

The pH indicator was impregnated into paper and 5 microlitres of th water samples pipetted onto it. Don't like this process

The pH indicator was impregnated into paper and 5 microlitres of the water samples pipetted onto it. Don’t like this process

In these tests, I continue to explore the nature of water. The chemical properties of pure water are universal, and unchanging, and what gives natural water courses their identity, and influences what else can live in them, exists within water and between the spaces of its polar molecules. I’m seeking to reveal these defining elemental signatures. One of the most important of these is  pH, that is whether the water is acidic or alkaline, and this can be measured by adding a pH indicator to the sample. The colour of the indicator changes according to the pH value of the water. I travelled  86 miles today and collected nine water samples on my journey and experimented on them.

Not unlike Damian Hirst’s spot paintings but the colours that  are generated are predetermined by, and are a direct reflection of the natural world. Oh and there’s acid rain there in the mix too!

Hoping to develop this into a much larger project with the help of a pointillist

From left to right the waters are:

1. Tap Water, Four Marks, Hampshire (pH 9, alkaline)

2. Rainwater, Four Marks, Hampshire (pH 4.5, acidic)

3. Seawater, Broadmarsh, Hampshire (pH 9, alkaline)

4. Marsh water, Tannic Pond, Thursley Common, Surrey (pH 5.5, acidic)

5. Water from the Moat,  Thursley Common, Surrey (pH 4.5, acidic)

6. Marsh water, Raft Spider pool, Thursley Common, Surrey (pH 5.5, acidic)

7. River Itchen water, Ovingdon, Hampshire (pH 9.0, alkaline)

8. River Wey water, Tideford, Surrey (pH 7.5, slightly alkaline)

9. Marsh water,  Bladderwort  pool, Thursley Common, Surrey (pH 4.0, acidic)

Bee-Jewelled. Found dead bees and Copper Sulphate

IMG_1361 IMG_1362 IMG_1363 IMG_1365 IMG_1366

This work was inspired by the depressing news, released this week,  that explains the massive die off of bees. Bees it would seem, like some kind of airborne swarm filter feeder,  concentrate environmental  pollutants,  like pesticides and fungicides,  and this makes them hypersensitive to a natural parasite called  Nosema cerenae

With a nod to  Ackroyd and Harvey, Roger Hiorns and to Ballard’s “Crystal World”, this work reflects the ability of bees to concentrate environmental chemicals and highlights fears for their extinction.

This Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword

Where two drops of the precursors merge the red coloured antibiotic Prontosil is formed

Where two drops of the precursors merge the red coloured antibiotic Prontosil is formed

The fountain pen and cartidge loaded with "invisible ink"

The fountain pen and cartidge loaded with “invisible ink”

The nearly invisible message

The nearly invisible message


The developing solution with the second Prontosil precursor

The developed message. The red letters a made from the antibiotic Prontosil

The developed message. The red letters are  made from the antibiotic Prontosil

Today we take antibiotics very much for granted and face a very serious problem with the emergence of widespread bacterial antibiotic resistance. In the years before 1935, bacterial infections were a deadly and an ever-present risk, with people routinely dying after very minor scratches or cuts once they had become infected. This all changed following Gerhard Domagk’s research on Prontosil, which became the first commercially available antibiotic. In its time, Prontosil was seen very much as a miracle drug since after taking it patients who were near-death were revived and became healthy again within hours. However, Sulphanilamide, a derivative of Prontosil was cheaper to produce, and was also easier to link into other molecules, and this soon gave rise to hundreds of second-generation sulphonamide drugs, and as a result, Prontosil failed to make any profits in the marketplace and was quickly eclipsed by the newer “sulpha drugs”.

For this work I have prepared two separate and colourless precursors that when mixed together form the bright orange coloured antibiotic Prontosil. As a child I was fascinated by invisible inks, which are invisible on application, but which can be made visible by some means or other later, and this formed the basis of this work. I loaded one of the precursors into a fountain pen to make an invisible ink, wrote with it, and then exposed the invisible text to the second precursor in order to develop the message. The red letters are made from Prontosil, as the two precursors combine, and would have once saved lives. It’s odd to think that I’ve always hated fountain pens because I’m left handed and find it difficult not to smudge the ink.

DIY Bio Microbiological Stain

Yeast cells at 400x magnification

Yeast cells at 400x magnification

A slide with a smear of bacteria stained with the stain

A slide with a smear of bacteria stained with the stain

Cocci (spherical) shaped bacteria  at 1000x magnification. The photograph really doesn't do this one justice!

Cocci (spherical) shaped bacteria at 1000x magnification. The photograph really doesn’t do this one justice!


I’ve been trying to develop a DIY Biology stain for visualising microbes and bacteria for around six months now. I’ve encountered many deadends but I’ve now developed one that works beautifully and for which the ingredients are safe and readily available to non-scientists. The images are poor because the microscope I used didn’t have a dedicated camera and I had to point my camera at the eye piece. But it works!

A Fungal Timepiece

IMG_1327 IMG_1328 IMG_1329

I’ve been looking for a while  for a suitable microorganism that might make the time-telling mechanism of a living timepiece. I have a kind of old fashioned but biological pocket watch in mind. I’ve just tested this fungus and it’s perfect!  The large fungal colony here is over two months old and it clearly shows evidence of some form of biological clock at work. Not unlike the rings that  we might find when a tree is cut down but the fungal rings develop over a much shorter time period.  All I need to do now is calibrate the cycle.



The extracted pigments ready for textile tests


The naturally pigmented bacteria and source of the BioDyes


How often do we think about the origin of the dyes used to colour our clothing. Almost, without exception they are, synthetic, and also the products of unsustainable chemical processes. The is a project with Anna Dumitriu and Sue Craig to explore whether natural and sustainable bacterial pigments can be used to dye textiles. The red pigmented bacterium Serratia marcescens and the purple pigmented bacterium Chromobacterium violaceum are the starting points.

Fly Bioart

IMG_1296 IMG_1301 IMG_1302 IMG_1303 IMG_1304 IMG_1305 IMG_1306 IMG_1308 IMG_1311 IMG_1312 IMG_1313 IMG_1314

This exploration was inspired by the current hot weather and the thought that two other life forms seem to benefit from it.

The blue bottle fly, Calliphora vomitoria (the latin name says a lot about it) is a very common and cosmopolitan insect, with which we share many of our environments. This fly seems to be equally at home feeding on rotting bodies, faeces and our carefully prepared food and this, and other habits make it an unparalleled vector for transmitting disease.  It prefers to swallow liquid food, and usually regurgitates ingested material in order to liquefy its meal and to facilitate digestion. In this manner flies can contaminate clean surfaces with approximately 0.1mg of food per landing.  In addition, droplets of bacteria rich faeces may be deposited during feeding, about every four to five minutes. Finally, if a blue bottle has recently fed on faeces it may carry as many as six million bacteria on its feet.  

I developed a simple process to reveal the way in which flies carry and transmit bacteria. I trapped three blue bottle files in a large square plastic dish filled with solid bacterial growth media and allowed the flies to walk over the surface for just 10 minutes.   As the flies travelled over the uninoculated surface they left behind a trail of the bacteria in their footsteps. Because of the invisible nature of bacteria, these tracks were at first invisible. However, after a day or so the bacteria grow into visible points (or colonies) that reveal the activity of the flies and the extent of their contamination. I must admit that even as a well-seasoned microbiologist , these images make me slightly queasy. (Not flies were harmed during the making of these images)

Toilet BioHack

The fluorescent bacteria isolated from the toilet biofilm

The printed bacteria from the toilet biofilm viewed under normal light

The printed bacteria from the toilet biofilm viewed under normal light

The printed bacteria from the toilet biofilm viewed under UV light and revealing their glowing message.

The printed bacteria from the toilet biofilm viewed under UV light and revealing their glowing message.


Here’s some BioArt that I carried out at home using DIY Bio. Anyone could do this. I found a bacterial biofilm growing under the rim of the toilet in our en suite bathroom (I suspect that even the cleanest of toilets will have these). Using General Kitchen Agar (GKA), a bacteriological medium that can be made at home and with ingredients that can be purchased at any supermarket,  I cultured the bacteria from the biofilm. When the bacteria are  visualized under a UV/Blacklight (again readily available) they can be seen to be  highly fluorescent (the ones that appear to glow blue) and because of this are probably Pseudomonas species. I purchased a bespoke rubber stamp, used these bacteria as a living ink, so that when exposed to UV light they reveal a pertinent message!

Am I concerned with this apparent lapse of home hygiene? Not at all, it’s just another striking example of the ability of  bacteria to adapt to the new environments that we seem to perpetually, and unintentionally, create for them.