Life On The Black Planet

The visible signs of the effect of pollution on the health of our oceans are without doubt striking. We should  all be shocked by Images of devastated coral reefs, of albatrosses strangled with plastics, and by dead whales whose last meal was a lethal cocktail of various types of synthetic flotsam.  However, it is the life forms that we can’t see, and how we influence their activities, that will be a  pivotal factor that will govern the future health of our seas,  and that will shape their life supporting chemistry.  Our planets oceans teem with invisible microbial life such that a single millilitre of seawater, in a genetic and microbial sense, has more complexity than the human genome. We often overlook that fact that pollution will dramatically influence the activity of these microorganisms, but since they underpin all of the more visible forms of marine life, our influence on these will have far reaching, but at first invisible, effects.

In the videos here, the elegant microscopic organism Volvox, has been exposed to a black and viscous micropollutant to illustrate the invisible impact of pollution,  and in particular the insidious nature of polluting agents like microplastics.

Carrot Cancer and Lab Grown SynBio Carrot Soup

 

The control carrot to which no bacteria had been added.

The control carrot to which no bacteria had been added.

A carrot infected with Agrobacterium tumefaciens. The greenish mass of cells in the middle is a bacterogenic  tumour.

A carrot infected with Agrobacterium tumefaciens. The greenish mass of cells in the middle is a bacterogenic tumour.

The bacterium Agrobacterium tumifaciens  is a sophisticated  plant pathogen causing gall-like tumours in its hosts.  Upon infection, it introduces a small section of its own DNA (called T-DNA) into the host plant’s genome and this results in the formation of  a plant tumour. The T-DNA carries genes for the production of plant hormones (auxin and cytokinins) thus  altering the hormonal balance in the plant cell so that its division is no longer controlled and tumours form. By infecting a carrot with these tumourogenic bacteria, I have produce and tumour.

Lots of artistic potential here.  Might it be possible to isolate to an immortal carrot cell line from the tumour, and clone in various flavour pathways,  so that one could directly grow carrot soup in the lab without ever having to resort to soil grown carrot.

Physarum Vivisection

After irradiation. The left side was protected from exposure and the right side irradiated.

After irradiation. The left side was protected from exposure and the right side irradiated.

After irradiation. The left side was protected from exposure and the right side irradiated.

After irradiation. The left side was protected from exposure and the right side irradiated.

The healthy culture prior to irrdation

The healthy culture prior to irrdation

The beautiful yellow slime mould Physarum polycephalum has a simple intelligence and can decide whether life is getting better or worse and move accordingly, solve the shortest route through a maze, and has a memory. I wonder if it can feel pain? I’m not entirely comfortable with this but I’m looking at ways of shaping this microorganism into living and pulsing designs or figures by etching into its sensitive flesh using powerful electromagnetic radiation. Here one half of a healthy culture has been exposed to the radiation and the other not. The effect is quite dramatic to say the least, but is this ethical?

Happy Christmas From C-MOULD: Gifts from the microbial world

C-MOULD, is the world’s largest collection of microorganisms for use in the arts and design, 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 antibiotics,  gold and electrically conductive nanowires, and bacteria that produce biotextiles. We also possess the largest collection of pigmented bacteria.

To celebrate Christmas we have made a small collection of gifts, and  unique and living Christmas tree decorations.

Gem

The Bacterial Gold Pendant. The bacterium Cupriavidus metallidurans was originally isolated in 1976 from a highly toxic pond in an abandoned  metal factory, and is notable because it withstands high concentrations of many different heavy metals. It is anthropogenic, in that it has evolved to live in toxic and metal rich man-made environments. It has also been shown to produce metallic gold, when grown in the presence of salts of this element, and may even be involved in gold deposition in nature. The strangely beautiful pendant on this necklace  (above) is an amalgam of this gold-producing bacterium, deposited bacterial gold, gold, and gold salts. A saffranin stain reveals the presence of the bacterium.

 

MvHankb

An anxiolytic handkerchief. Mycobacteria are an important group of bacteria which includes pathogens known to cause serious diseases in humans, including tuberculosis and leprosy. Whilst the diseases caused by this genus of bacteria can be devastating, one of its members, Mycobacterium vaccae, is ubiquitous in soil, and exposure to it has been shown to reduce anxiety, and through this effect, even the ability to learn. This hankercheif is impregnated with M. vaccae, and has been stained with a specific dye ( Ziehl–Neelsen), that uniquely reveals this bacterium.

 

The gift of light an communication. These baubles contain bioluminescent bacteria (glow in the dark). They provide an ethereal blue glow and will light up a room. By studying these bacteria, and how they regulate the production of their light, scientists learnt that all bacteria communicate with each other and through this have a simple social intelligence.

The gift of light an communication. These baubles contain bioluminescent bacteria (glow in the dark). They provide an ethereal blue glow and will light up a room. By studying these bacteria, and how they regulate the production of their light, scientists learnt that all bacteria communicate with each other and through this have a simple social intelligence.

The gift of light an communication. These baubles contain bioluminescent bacteria (glow in the dark). They provide an ethereal blue glow and will light up a room. By studying these bacteria, and how they regulate the production of their light, scientists learnt that all bacteria communicate with each other and through this have a simple social intelligence.

The gift of light an communication. These baubles contain bioluminescent bacteria (glow in the dark). They provide an ethereal blue glow and will light up a room. By studying these bacteria, and how they regulate the production of their light, scientists learnt that all bacteria communicate with each other and through this have a simple social intelligence.

Health: Penicillium chrysogenum was isolated from a cantaloupe bought  from a grocery store in Peoria, Illinois. It produces several hundred times  more penicillin than Alexander Fleming's original cultures of Penicillium. This stain formed the basis of the processes needed to mass-produce penicillin in quantities great enough for distribution and mass use.

Health: Penicillium chrysogenum was isolated from a cantaloupe bought from a grocery store in Peoria, Illinois. It produces several hundred times more penicillin than Alexander Fleming’s original cultures of Penicillium. This stain formed the basis of the processes needed to mass-produce penicillin in quantities great enough for distribution and mass use.

Intelligence:The slime mould Physarum polycephalum can solve mazes and plot the shortest routes between points in its search for food,  and  has a memory.

Intelligence:The slime mould Physarum polycephalum can solve mazes and plot the shortest routes between points in its search for food, and has a memory.

Blood: many bacteria possess haemoglobin and thus the origin of our own blood

Blood: many bacteria possess haemoglobin and thus the origin of our own blood

 Fashion Futures: like many bacteria Gluconoacetobacter xylinus produces potentionally useful polymers. This bacterium produces cellulose nanofibres which may form the basis of novel textiles and biocompatible replacement body parts.

Fashion Futures: like many bacteria Gluconoacetobacter xylinus produces potentionally useful polymers. This particular bacterium produces cellulose nanofibres which may form the basis of novel textiles and biocompatible replacement body parts.

Life: Azotobcter vinelandii is an example of a nitrogen fixing bacterium. These organisms have the unique ability to take the gaseous nitrogen presen in our atmosphere and convert it into a form that can be used by plants and thence all complex life on Earth. We and many other living things could not exist without them

Life: Azotobcter vinelandii is an example of a nitrogen fixing bacterium. These organisms have the unique ability to take the gaseous nitrogen present in our atmosphere and convert it into a form that can be used by plants and thence by all complex life on Earth. We and many other living things could not exist without them

Health: Penicillium chrysogenum was isolated from a cantaloupe bought  from a grocery store in Peoria, Illinois. It produces several hundred times  more penicillin than Alexander Fleming's original cultures of Penicillium. This stain formed the basis of the processes needed to mass-produce penicillin in quantities great enough for distribution and mass use.

Health: Penicillium chrysogenum was isolated from a cantaloupe bought from a grocery store in Peoria, Illinois. It produces several hundred times more penicillin than Alexander Fleming’s original cultures of Penicillium. This stain formed the basis of the processes needed to mass-produce penicillin in quantities great enough for distribution and mass use.

Blood: many bacteria possess haemoglobin and thus the origin of our own blood

Blood: many bacteria possess haemoglobin and thus the origin of our own blood

Intelligence:The slime mould Physarum polycephalum can solve mazes and plot the shortest routes between points in its search for food,  and  has a memory.

Intelligence:The slime mould Physarum polycephalum can solve mazes and plot the shortest routes between points in its search for food, and has a memory.

C-MOULD: BIOTEXTILES

C-MOULD, is the world’s largest collection of microorganisms for use in the arts and design, 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.

C-MOULD’s BIOprosepectors (that’s just me at the moment) are continually exploring the microbial world for innovative functions/materials. Here are just  a  few of them.

 

AZOTEX. This material is in early development but could prove to be  be C-MOULD's most innovative material. It's produced from Azotobacter vinelandii and is based on alginate. This bacterium grows on a very simple solution of salts and fixes nitrogen so a  garment made from this material would take nitrogen from the air and convert it into biofertilizer. The ultimate in sustainable textiles

AZOTEX. This material is in early development but could prove to be C-MOULD’s most innovative material. It’s produced from Azotobacter vinelandii and is based on alginate. This bacterium grows on a very simple solution of salts and fixes nitrogen so a garment made from this material would take nitrogen from the air and convert it into biofertilizer. The ultimate in sustainable textiles

LEVANX. A thin biomaterial produced by Pseudomonas fluorescens. Could be used for ultra thin biocompatible condoms?

LEVANX. A thin biomaterial produced by Pseudomonas fluorescens. Could be used for ultra thin biocompatible condoms?

GXCELL: Bacterial Nanocellulose. This is produced from a hyper-cellulose producing  strain of Gluconoacetobacter xylinus. It's pure nanocellulose and offers vastly improved tensile properties compared to Kombucha

GXCELL: Pure bacterial nanocellulose. This is produced from a hyper-cellulose producing strain of Gluconoacetobacter xylinus. It’s pure nanocellulose and offers vastly improved tensile properties compared to Kombucha

PROKARYLON. A unique biomaterial made from auto-woven bacterial peptidoglycan fibrils. Very fragile so at the suggestion of CSM Fashion Futures student Zuzan Gombasova is being developed as a unique bacterial  felt-like material. A type of BioDown with insulation properties

PROKARYLON. A unique biomaterial made from auto-woven bacterial peptidoglycan fibrils. It’s very fragile so at the suggestion of CSM Fashion Futures student Zuzan Gombasova is being developed as a unique bacterial felt-like material. A type of BioDown with insulation properties

PENCAMEX, in the foreground, is a mould based biomaterial. White in colour it is enzymatically active and thus self cleaning . Swathes of biomaterials that have just been harvested. PENREX in the background.

PENCAMEX, in the foreground, is a mould based biomaterial. White in colour it is enzymatically active and thus self cleaning . Swathes of biomaterials that have just been harvested. PENREX in the background.

Close up of PENREX  showing its hydrophobic/water repelling properties. The water forms a bead and rolls off

Close up of PENREX showing its hydrophobic/water repelling properties. The water forms a bead and rolls off

PENREX: A textile that can be grown simply on the surface on milk. Chitinous in origin, this fungal material has powerful hydrophobic properties and repels water

PENREX: A textile that can be grown simply on the surface on milk. Chitinous in origin, this fungal material has powerful hydrophobic properties and repels water

Brent Geese

IMG_3293 IMG_3294 IMG_3301

Photographs of Brent Geese at Farlington Marshes. There is microbiology here of course, the vast metagenome within the mud and soil, that underpins all of the visible life that we see here. I was really stuck by the two photographs that I took of the geese with their feet immersed in the mud, and how in these images, that they seem fit into this environment in an almost painting-like manner, far better than they do against the grass.

Christmas at C-MOULD

The lab at C-Mould. In the foreground a genetically modified carrot top (a mini GM Christmas tree), and BioDomes. At the back our Nikon Eclipse Ni-U DIC Microscope, a hay infusion and a Winogradsky column

The lab at C-Mould. In the foreground a genetically modified carrot top (a mini GM Christmas tree), and BioDomes. At the back our Nikon Eclipse Ni-U DIC Microscope, a hay infusion and a Winogradsky column

BioDomes. Living Christams tree decorations

BioDomes. Living Christams tree decorations

BioDomes. Living Christams tree decorations

BioDomes. Living Christams tree decorations

C-MOULD, is the world’s largest collection of microorganisms for use in the arts and design, 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.

Christmas preparations are well underway and our next batch of festive BioDomes is ready for despatch. Microbial gifts to hang on the Christmas tree. None of that gold frankincense and myrrh shite but gifts with world-changing power like penicillin.