Microcondensation from my own breath. Not my last one, I hope. Why the spontaneous generation of circles by the droplets of water? DIC microscopy, 200x magnification
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.
I first saw hints of this phenomenon a few years ago when I was growing bacteria on textiles for a collborative art project with Anna Dumitriu but have only now started to explore it further. If fine threads of material (cotton in this case) are placed on the surface of solid bacterial growth media, and then inoculated with motile bacteria, then the bacteria are able to travel along these but not the rest of the agar surface. Wires, that carry bacteria and not electrons? Bacterial Highways? Threads of Life?
C-MOULD, is the world’s largest collection of microorganisms for use in the arts and design, with over 50 different kinds of microorganism. In 2014 C-MOULD’s research scientists (that’s just me at the moment!) will be developing a sustainable and ethical wool made from algae. We have just acquired the filamentous algae Spirogyra varians, and hopefully will soon be weaving it’s microfilaments into a algal wool jumper.
The Blue Lagoon, Iceland. A unique geothermal spa that utilizes the waste seawater from a nearby geothermal power plant. Silica, which is brought directly from the Earth’s mantle, is the most characteristic element in its water, but its waters also contain a unique microbial community, as some 60% of the organisms here are novel on a species level. On a recent recreational visit, I became fascinated by the way that wood that had been in contact with the waters had become siliconized and thus coated in a hard vitreous layer. Could such a siliconized wood composite form a novel BioCeramic building material? Does the unique microbial community play a role in the diposition of slica?
The slime mould Physarum polycephalum in a spherical and isolated habitat. As it runs out of resources and the toxins produced by its activities begin to poison its environment, it seeks to escape. The futility of its efforts, and its externalized memories of failure, are recorded on the inside of the dome for us all to see. .
There is an obvious metaphor here for ourselves, and the impact of our own activities on planet Earth. At some point though the slime mould, this apparently simple organism, will recognise it’s predicament, take steps to reduce its activity, and will form dormant forms whose purpose is to survive the approaching crisis.