Black Smoker

 

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.

Live Wires/

One set of threads after incubation. Here the threads have been inoculated seperately  with two different bacteria that initially white.  However, when these two strains are allowed to mix with each other and communicate, they produce a purple pigment.This is clearly visible at the junction or node where the two species have mixed and are communicating with one another

One set of threads after incubation. Here the threads have been inoculated seperately with two different bacteria that are initially white. However, when these two strains are allowed to mix with each other and communicate, they produce a purple pigment.This is clearly visible at the junction or node where the two species have mixed and are communicating with one another

 

One set of threads after incubation. One thread was inoculated with a purple pigmented bacterium and the other with a red one. I like the way that purple has beaten red to the junction and prevented it travelling any further.

One set of threads after incubation. One thread was inoculated with a purple pigmented bacterium and the other with a red one. I like the way that purple has beaten red to the junction and prevented it travelling any further.

The threads just after inoculation

The threads just after inoculation. No pigments or growth yet visible.

The threads just after inoculation

The threads just after inoculation. No pigments or growth yet visible.

One set of threads after incubation. One thread was inoculated with a purple pigmented bacterium and the other with a red one. I like the way that purple has beaten red to the junction and prevented it travelling any further.

One set of threads after incubation. One thread was inoculated with a purple pigmented bacterium and the other with a red one. I like the way that purple has beaten red to the junction and prevented it travelling any further.

Three days incubation. Remember the purple pigment is only produced where the two strains of bacteria are communicating with each other

Three days incubation. Remember the purple pigment is only produced where the two strains of bacteria are communicating with each other

Three days incubation. Remember the purple pigment is only produced where the two strains of bacteria are communicating with each other

Three days incubation. Remember the purple pigment is only produced where the two strains of bacteria are communicating with each other

Red/Purple Three days incubation

Red/Purple Three days incubation

Red/Purple Three days incubation

Red/Purple Three days incubation

Red/Purple Three days incubation

Red/Purple Three days incubation

The bacteria following threads laid out in  quite complex patterns

The bacteria following threads laid out in quite complex patterns

The bacteria following threads laid out in  quite complex patterns

The bacteria following threads laid out in quite complex patterns

The bacteria following threads laid out in  quite complex patterns

The bacteria following threads laid out in quite complex patterns

 

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 New Acquisition: Spirogyra varians

Algal thread preparation

Algal thread preparation

Algal thread preparation

Algal thread preparation

Algal thread preparation

Algal thread preparation

Algal thread preparation

Algal thread preparation

Culture of the algal threads

Culture of the algal threads

Microscopic images of the algal microfibres

Microscopic images of the algal microfibres

Microscopic images of the algal microfibres

Microscopic images of the algal microfibres

Microscopic images of the algal microfibres

Microscopic images of the algal microfibres

 

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.

Blue Lagoon/BioCeramics ?

Josh (in the foreground) at the Blue Lagoon

Josh (in the foreground) at the Blue Lagoon

The siliconized wood

The siliconized wood

The siliconized wood

The siliconized wood

The siliconized wood

The siliconized wood

The siliconized wood

The siliconized wood

The siliconized wood

The siliconized wood

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?

A Life Contained

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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.