A treat for a grey Saturday. The majestic Paramecium caudatum. The Sperm Whale of the microbial world
Bacteria and microbes would have been the first living things to move, and thus in a sense, the first organisms to be able to to dance on planet Earth. I’m attempting some microbiological choreography. In the first instance, can I persuade microbes to move with purpose and in a coordinated manner. The answer seems to be yes. It’s more like a flash mob, rather than an elegant ballet at present, but in the videos above Euglena gracilis has moved in a deliberate manner to a source of stimulus which results in a seething mass of mircobial cells and areas distil to the stimulus being far less populated. It’s easy to see how the complex multicellular behaviour that we see in plants might have arisen.
Introducing Spirostoma and Euglena gracilis
Please excuse the jerky microscope work. I’m still learning! Here is are short video of the beautiful Paramecium caudatum. 200x magnification, DIC microscopy.
A short time ago C-MOULD the world’s largest collection of microorganisms for use in art and design acquired two strains of Gluconoacetobacter xylinus, which produce cellulose nanofibres when grown with sugar. These are microscopic images of the bacteria and clearly show the bacterial cells amongst deposits and fibrils of cellulose. It’s an intriguingly tough yet flexible living material and by growing the bacteria together with sand I’m hoping to grow my own house.
Pyrocystis fusiformis is a large marine bioluminescent algae. When it is disturbed, it produces a flash of stiking blue bioluminescent light. In the still images and video above, I have poured some of the culture into a shallow Petri dish and then used a stylus to make paint-like strokes in the liquid media. Captured by the camera, the results are fleeting paintings where the individual trajectories of single cells of the algae can be seen. It’s as if the stylus has become a magical wand that sparkles with the raw energy of our seas. The colour and quality of the light reminds me of Cherenkow Radiation.
C-MOULD, the world’s largest collection of microorganisms for use in the arts, with over 50 different kinds of microorganism. We have bacteria and fungi that glow in ethereal shades of green and blue light, bacteria that make gold and electrically conductive nanowires, and bacteria that produce biotextiles. We also possess the largest collection of pigmented bacteria.
The bacteria in the images and videos above have just been acquired by C-MOULD. Agrobacterium tumifaciens (gall-like tumours) and Agrobacterium rhizogenes (hairy root tumours) are sophisticated plant pathogens that upon infection, incorporate a small section of their own DNA into the host plant’s genome which results in the formation of plant tumours.
At C-MOULD we call the bacterium in these images C.met. (short for Cupriavidus metallidurans). The owner of this rather cumbersome name, has the unique ability amongst living things (I think) to produce gold. We have just begun a project to isolate the Au-Operon (the set of genes responsible for gold synthesis) and in the first instance to clone this into E.coli so that it too might gain the ability to produce gold. Artists might speculate that someone that consumed this bacterium would produce golden turds. We hope that the project might also form the basis of future BioFolly’s, indulgent living SynBio status symbols, such as the Sheep With The Golden Fleece or The Goose That Lays The Golden Egg.
Pyrocystis fusiformis is a large marine bioluminescent algae. During the night, its cells produce a stiking blue light when disturbed as a defence mechanism to startle predators. Here I’ve “disturbed” them by playing them music through headphones, Dominion/Mother Russia by The Sisters of Mercy to be precise. I’m thrilled to report that they “hear” the music and respond to it by producing light. The videos are best viewed in a dark room. Because I’ve used headphones here, only the Pyrocystis can “hear” the music, and the background noise is that of the fans in the controlled temperature room where the algae are currently living. Tempted to call this process SonoBioluminescence. Maybe be a trip to some natural Pyrocystis marine habitat next to play them, and the sea, music in their natural setting.