EARTHENWARE: Tests For BioGlazes

 

Microscopic view

Microscopic view

Microscopic view

Microscopic view

Microscopic view. Magnification 400x. The pink cells are a colony of bacteria

Microscopic view. Magnification 400x. The pink cells are a colony of bacteria

Microscopic view. Magnification 400x. The purple cells are a colony of bacteria

Microscopic view. Magnification 400x. The purple cells are a colony of bacteria

Microscopic view. Magnification 400x. The purple cells are a colony of bacteria

Microscopic view. Magnification 400x. The purple cells are a colony of bacteria

Microscopic view. Magnification 400x. The purple cells are a colony of bacteria

Microscopic view. Magnification 400x. The purple cells are a colony of bacteria

Microscopic view. Magnification 400x. The pink cells are a colony of bacteria

Microscopic view. Magnification 400x. The pink cells are a colony of bacteria

Microscopic view. Magnification 400x. The purple cells are a colony of bacteria

Microscopic view. Magnification 400x. The purple cells are a colony of bacteria

Macroscopic views

Macroscopic views

Macroscopic views

Macroscopic views

Macroscopic views

Macroscopic views

Macroscopic views

Macroscopic views

Macroscopic views

Macroscopic views

Macroscopic views

Macroscopic views

Macroscopic views

Macroscopic views

Macroscopic views

Macroscopic views

Macroscopic views

Macroscopic views

Microscopic view. Magnification 400x. The purple cells are a colony of bacteria

Microscopic view. Magnification 400x. The purple cells are a colony of bacteria

Microscopic view. Magnification 400x. The purple cells are a colony of bacteria

Microscopic view. Magnification 400x. The purple cells are a colony of bacteria

Soil is the matrix upon which our civilization depends and by from a human perspective, the living soil has to be the Earth’s most valuable ecosystem.   Without healthy soils, life and human society as we know it would not be able to function.

Much of the activity of soil, and its ability to support life and recycle biological material, depends upon the microorganisms that live here.  This microbial community is massively complex, and similar to our relationship with the human microbiome, it serves as a vital symbiotic partner to the many plants that grow upon it.  We disturb this complex ecosystem and its myriad associations at our own peril.

To emphasize the importance of soil and its complex and vital microbiology, I have  an idea for burying unglazed pottery or ceramics within it and at different locations, and allowing these to be colonized by the microorganisms that live here. When the implanted objects are removed, they will then be stained with a variety of dyes that specifically stain bacteria and other microbes, so that this vital, yet often overlooked microbial ecology is revealed on the ceramics.

Here are the very first tests for this process. I buried some glass microscope slides at a variety of locations, left them for a month, removed them and then stained them to reveal the presence of the microbial community. The slides were viewed both macroscopically and with a microscope.

The process shows great promise. Of course in future it should be possible to treat the ceramics to encourage, or to prevent colonization, to make designs. The process might also work with fabrics, a dress perhaps?

Autogenic Textile Design

The resulting autogenic bacterial design

The resulting autogenic bacterial design

The resulting autogenic bacterial design

The resulting autogenic bacterial design

The resulting autogenic bacterial design

The resulting autogenic bacterial design

The resulting autogenic bacterial design

The resulting autogenic bacterial design

The resulting autogenic bacterial design

The resulting autogenic bacterial design

The resulting autogenic bacterial design

The resulting autogenic bacterial design

Inoculation finished

Inoculation finished

Inoculation

Inoculation

Inoculation

Inoculation

The Bacterial Wargames are over but the sheet of polycotton on which they fought has been preserved and dried down. This brightly coloured fabric  might serve as a table cloth or be cut and fashioned into a dress or other garments.

The colours on the cloth are produced entirely from the growth of naturally pigmented bacteria and whilst humans were involved in the inoculation of the material, the final design is generated via the emergent properties of the bacteria themselves, and how they interact. The red and purple bacteria are aggressive and takeover large swathes of the material and invade zones containing other strains of bacteria. Other bacteria like blue and orangey brown produce antibiotics and set up defensive exclusion zones, where other bacteria are killed, and which prevent them from being invaded.

 

Living Photographs

The negative

The negative

The living photograph of the bike

The living photograph of the bike

The living photograph of the bike

The living photograph of the bike

The living photograph of the bike

The living photograph of the bike

 

This process has been used before and notably in wonderful art works by Susan Boafo, Edgar LIssel and Roy Amiss.  It utilizes the phototactic response of photosynthetic microorganisms,  that is, their ability to deliberately move towards a source of light  so that photosynthesis become possible.

Here the phototactic protozoan Euglena gracilis has been exposed to the lit silhouette of a bicycle so that it might function as living algal emulsion. Over the course an hour the microscopic migrate en masse from the dark to the lit sections of the projected image. The process of the movement of the microorganisms bares similarities with the exposure of photographic paper with the areas which are stuck by light becoming dark, and those which receive little light remaining clear.

Green Photosynthetic Flames

BioCon2 BioCon1

A dense culture of the photosynthetic and phototactic protozoan Euglena gracilis. The macroscopic patterns (the green flames, dots, curves) are a spatio-temporal pattern called bioconvection which forms when an external stimulus such as light, an oxygen gradient, or gavity induces unidirectional swimming of the microorganism. A timelapse and some stills.

A Cloth That Listens: Introducing NSAbacterium

The textile impregnated with NSAbacterium and which has just been challenged with an invading strain (the riased smear)

The textile impregnated with NSAbacterium and which has just been challenged with an invading strain (the riased smear)

NSAbacterium responding to the invading strain by producing a purple pigment and poweful antibiotic

NSAbacterium responding to the invading strain by producing a purple pigment and poweful antibiotic

Like us bacteria can communicate with each other. Whilst, this empowers them with a powerful form of social intelligence, it also makes them vunerable should we be able to detect, listen in, or interfer with their chatter.

This mundane looking textile is impregnated with a strain of a SynBioEngineered bacteria called NSAbacterium which listens for the signals of bacterial communication, and if these are detected it mounts a concerted response in order to repel the invasion. If it intercepts communication signals from the cells of invading stain of bacterium, it responds by turning purple and by producing a powerful antibiotic to combat it.

 

 

The Colour of Sound: Whale Song

Pyrocystis fusiformis is a large marine bioluminescent algae. During the night, its cells produce a stiking blue light when disturbed, perhaps as a defence mechanism to startle predators.

These are some very early tests for a new project with Dr Milton Mermikides and Professor Tony Myatt from the University of Surrey. We’re playing the algae sounds and music and measuring their response. I’m pleased to report that they responded to  the various tones that we played to them by emitting bioluminescence. In the second test, we played the Pyrocystis the songs of  Humpback Whales and I’m delighted to report that they “heard” their songs and responded by emitting ephemeral flashes of luminescence. There’s something quite sublime in watching some of the ocean’s smallest life forms “hearing” and responding to the songs produced by some of its largest inhabitants

BLACK SMOKER II

DSC_0664

 

In which microorganisms are taught to smoke.

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 Stentor, 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.

Bacterial Wargames

The soldiers (different species of pigmented bacteria

The soldiers (different species of pigmented bacteria

The giant Petri dish

The giant Petri dish

Inoculation

Inoculation

Inoculation

Inoculation

Inoculation finished

Inoculation finished

Incubation: Day 1

Incubation: Day 1

Incubation: Day 2

Incubation: Day 2

Incubation: Day 2

Incubation: Day 2

Incubation: Day 2

Incubation: Day 2

Incubation: Day 2

Incubation: Day 2

Incubation: Day 2

Incubation: Day 2

Incubation: Day 2

Incubation: Day 2

In its final setting

In its final setting

In its final setting with human interaction!

In its final setting with human interaction!

Red Wins. Game Over!

Red Wins. Game Over!

Red Wins. Game Over!

Red Wins. Game Over!

“the microscope discovers, what motions, what tumult, what wars, what pursuits, what stratagems”  Samuel Taylor Coleridge

A new project inspired by the boardgames of my childhood, Risk, Campaign and Diplomacy and the like,  and also by the inherent properties of bacteria.  Produced in collaboration with Alexander Penn, Clifford Pemberton Kaylee Herbert, Elizabeth Saunders, and Andrew Friend.  Part of the MILES event at the University of Surrey

Billions of microscopic soldiers (bacteria) , take part in a unique and epic battle on the surface of probably the largest  Petri dish in the world. Each colour is a different inoculum of living and pigmented bacteria, with each possessing a different characteristic/ability. The images here are of the initial inoculation (each coloured patch represents a seperate bacterial species), and the map after incubation, and after its nature has been changed dramatically as the bacteria became active, grew,  and interacted with each other. The red and purple pigmented bacteria are aggressive and swarm to infiltrate certain other species. Blue and orange adopt a defensive strategies and produce powerful, and yet uncharacterized antibiotics, that kill red to protect their own territory. I can’t help but feel that this map is a metaphor for our own species and wonder, as bacteria predated us in evolutionary terms, whether the traits that we see here are hardwired into our own biology.

The battle has taken place on a layer of the fabric polycotton and this facilitates their movement through its fibres. I’m also thinking what a fine Summer dress this bacterially stained fabric would make if sterilized and dried!