A watery journey today
Mycobacteria are an important group of bacteria which includes pathogens known to cause serious diseases in humans, including tuberculosis (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) and leprosy (Mycobacterium leprae). All members of this group have an unusual, waxy coating which makes them impervious to traditional staining techniques. Moreover, this characteristic cell wall, which is thick, hydrophobic, and also waxy in nature, gives this group of bacteria many characteristics that resist medical treatment. It confers upon these bacteria increased resistance to chemical damage and dehydration, resistance hydrophobic antibiotics, and all the bacteria to grow readily inside macrophages, effectively hiding them from the host’s immune system. The biosynthetic pathways of this important cell layer offer potential targets for new drugs for tuberculosis and leprosy.
I’ve developed a staining process for textiles that beautifully reflects the important role of the waxy layer in Mycobacterium resistance and pathogenicity. When members of this bacterium are inoculated onto fabrics and grown, the waxy layer acts as a resist, much like wax would in a traditional Batik for example, preventing access to the dye and thereby revealing the presence of the mycobacteria.
This reminds me very much of one of those marvelous Deep Field images taken by the Hubble Telescope. However, what at first appear to be galaxies and astronomical bodies here are bacteria from my personal microbiome. I’m liking the apparent superimposition of the macrocosm/microcosm. Living galaxies inside me.
If you take time to look carefully, every so often you come across something unexpected and quite profound.
Amongst a selection of agar plates on which I was routinely growing fungi from soils I came upon this. A mould had grown on the agar, and in the process of respiration, had consumed oxgen and produced water and carbon dioxide as we do, but in this case, the water had condensed on the hydrophobic Petri dish lid, and into a pattern that reflected perfectly the activity of the living mould beneath it. In this manner, it’s usually unseen breath, and hence that of the soil from which it had come, had become visible in the most beautiful of ways.
C-MOULD is a unique collection of microorganisms for use in art and design. This is the first of a series of posts and artworks that highlight some of its acquisitions.
CV026 is a bacterium that has been genetically modified to be effectively “mute” and in being so, to serve as a unique monitor for bacteria-to-bacteria communication. That is, it can receive chemical communication signals from other bacteria and respond to them by producing a purple pigment, but it cannot send out signals itself. In these images, I have impregnated textiles with CV026 and also bacteria from my own normal flora. In both cases the bacteria are initially non-pigmented and white, but as my own microbiome produces signals that CV026 can detect, and respond to, the fabric begins to turn purple highlighting the intense interspecific communication, between my own bacterial flora and the reporter CV026. I feel rather privilidged to be seeing this for the first time.
The large fungal colony here is now over four months old and it clearly shows some of biological clock at work. The mould exhibits some form a periodicity, not unlike the rings that we might find when a tree is cut down, but the fungal rings here develop over a much shorter time period. I can vary the “tick” of the clock by changing the temperature as evidenced by the larger outer ring.