C-MOULD New Acquisitions: Living Carcinogens

Agrobacterium tumifaciens, Gram stain 1000x magnification, Brightfield Microscopy

Agrobacterium tumifaciens, Gram stain 1000x magnification, Brightfield Microscopy

Agrobacterium rhizogenes, Gram stain 1000x magnification, Brightfield Microscopy

Agrobacterium rhizogenes, Gram stain 1000x magnification, Brightfield Microscopy

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.

C.met at C-MOULD

Cupriavidus metallidurans, Gram Stain, 1000x magnification

Cupriavidus metallidurans, Gram Stain, 1000x magnification

Cupriavidus metallidurans, Gram Stain, 1000x magnification

Cupriavidus metallidurans, Gram Stain, 1000x magnification

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.

The Colour of Sound II: Pyrocystis fusiformis, Bowers and Wilkins P5 Headphones and iPad

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.

The Hidden Principle of Combustion

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“Combustion is the hidden principle behind every artefact we create. The making of a fish-hook, manufacture of a china cup, or production of a television programme, all depend on the same process of combustion. Like our bodies and like our desires, the machines we have devised are possessed of a heart which is slowly reduced to embers. From the earliest times, human civilization has been no more than a strange luminescence growing more intense by the hour, of which no one can say when it will begin to wane and when it will fade away.” Inspired by W.G Sebald’s “The Rings of Saturn”  Interesting but not quite what I planned. More work needed

We Colonized The Moon First

The Bioluminescent Moon. The light here is being generated by bioluminescent and has unique and lure-like qualities

The Bioluminescent Moon. The light here is being generated soley by bioluminescent bacteria and has unique and lure-like qualities

Four Moonflowers imaged in daylight

Four Moonflowers imaged in daylight

Four Moonflowers imaged in the dark so that their biolumiescence becomes apparen

Four Moonflowers imaged in the dark so that their biolumiescence becomes apparen

In total, twenty-four humans have travelled to the Moon, and twelve have walked on its surface.  In the 41 years since  Apollo 17 Commander Eugene Cernan climbed from the moon’s dusty surface up the rungs of the Lunar Module and became “the last man on the moon, our understanding of what it means to be human has changed radically. We know now that the bacterial cells in our bodies outnumber human cells by a factor of 10 to 1, and because of this we can no longer consider ourselves to be isolated physiological islands that are capable of independent self-sufficiency.  In fact, we exist as a complex ecosystem and social network containing body cells,  but also trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms that inhabit our skin, mouth and especially intestines.

If we now consider the moon landings in this new context, then unimaginable numbers of bacteria have already visited the moon. I was reminded of this two years ago when a bacterium called Streptococcus mitis colonized  my aortic heart valve, and in the process nearly killed me.  Apparently, the same bacterium  was carried to the moon on the Surveyor 3 probe where it survived for two years.

This work playfully refers to “The Republic of The Moon”, an upcoming and exciting  art exhibition that seeks  to re-examine our relationship with our planet’s only natural satellite. It imagines that the many bacteria, that were inadvertently left behind after the moon landings,  survived and are evolving into new and exotic extra-terrestrial ecologies. As they do on Earth now, these bacteria will evolve to form complex and bioluminescent structures which I call moonflowers. In the future, these will cover the entire surface of the moon so it that it becomes bioluminescent. The light emitted by bioluminescent bacteria has an ancient evolutionary power and acts as a  beguiling lure for prey or mates, and in this context, perhaps the moon’s new inhabitants are luring us back to it, but for what purpose?

Asorbate and Paramecium

Ascorbate crystalization with Paramecium

Ascorbate crystalization with Paramecium

Ascorbate crystalization with Paramecium

Ascorbate crystalization with Paramecium

Ascorbate crystalization with Paramecium

Ascorbate crystalization with Paramecium

Ascorbate crystalization with Paramecium

Ascorbate crystalization with Paramecium

Ascorbate crystalization with Paramecium

Ascorbate crystalization with Paramecium

Ascorbate crystalization with Paramecium

Ascorbate crystalization with Paramecium

Ascorbate crystalization with Paramecium. Here the remains of the microscopic organism are embedded with the crystal and small jet of cytoplasmic material is evident

Ascorbate crystalization with Paramecium. Here the remains of the microscopic organism are embedded within the crystal and a small jet of cytoplasmic material is evident

Ascorbate crystalization with Paramecium

Ascorbate crystalization with Paramecium

Ascorbate crystalization with Paramecium

Ascorbate crystalization with Paramecium

Ascorbate crystalization with Paramecium

Ascorbate crystalization with Paramecium

Ascorbate crystalization without Paramecium

Ascorbate crystalization without Paramecium

Ascorbate crystalization without Paramecium

Ascorbate crystalization without Paramecium

Ascorbate crystalization with Paramecium

Ascorbate crystalization with Paramecium

I thought “what would happen if I mixed the microscopic organism Paramecium with ascorbate and allowed it to crystalize”. Would the organism become preserved within the crystals like a microfossil,  or would the properties of the living organism influence the crystalization process. It seems like the latter happened. The forms are very different in the presence of life, as if the energies of the paramecium’s small life had become trapped in the crystals.