Windows on the Microbiome

Traditionally what we consider to be “self” is usually restricted to the collection of 10 trillion or so eukaryote cells that derive directly from our own human genomes. However, the “omic” technologies of the 21st century are radically redefining this view, so that “self” can now be seen to extend beyond the traditional precinct of our visible form, and to include our resident bacterial community. In fact, these normally invisible cells outnumber what we consider to be our own cells, by a factor of ten and contain at least ten times more DNA than our own genome. Recent studies have suggested that our personal bacterial flora, that is our  microbiome, can influence our predisposition to gain or loose body weight, and even to alter our moods and ability to learn. This new work explores the vastness of the human microbiome. Please follow the illustrated story below.


The visitor is at first confronted with a beautiful installation of brightly coloured glass, either in the form of stained glass, or cloured glass into which intricate etchings have been made into the colours (below)

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The same glass, observed under 20-400x magnification reveals vast and beautiful landscapes, comprised many thousands of microscopic bacterial cells. These are in fact from the body’s microbiome (below).

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Finally, the glass is observed at 1000x magnification and the individual bacterial cells that make up the human microbiome can now be seen (below). The final revelation is that this work is made from shit, which has been carefully prepared and stained with specific dyes to reveal the vast numbers of bacteria that are present in it. The work transforms something that is treated with revulsion and disgust, into a profound, and perhaps disturbing, representation of the human microbiome, and its vast complexity.

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