This is a work from a new series of explorations that continue my fascination with purely biogenic designs. The colours and patterns here all derive directly from nature, and explore its complexity, natural laws, and inherent creativity. Each design also reflects, and is generated by a story, much like a traditional tapestry might be. In this work though, the colours and designs are generated by a genetically modified bacterium that produces a purple pigment when it detects communication signals for other bacteria.
Here is the story of this particular textile design. Bacteria possess complex chemical communication systems that endow them with a form of social intelligence. In the simplest sense they use these systems to signal their presence to other related bacteria and through this census-taking, ensure that their communities express only specific functions at particular and appropriate population densities. These systems also allow bacterial communities to operate a form of bacterial democaracy in that individual cells can vote on issues affecting the entire population, and influence decisions. The same processes allow bacteria also to function as multi-cellular organisms.
Chromobacterium violaceum is a common soil bacterium that produces striking purple colonies. In relation to the concept above, the expression of this colour is dependent on bacterial communication so that when a small number of bacteria are present its cells will be white but it turns purple when it receives many communication signals from other bacteria. When it grows in colonies, individual bacteria of this species are continually sending and receiving signals and consequently the colony will be purple. I have a genetically modified version of C. violaceum called CV026 that is effectively mute. It has been modified so that it can receive chemical communication signals and respond to them, but it cannot send them, so that it only turns purple if it detects a communication signal from another type of bacterium. In this sense, it is a unique sensor for bacterial communication giving a striking and direct visualization of this phenomenon.
In this work the sensor strain has been inoculated onto the silk textile as a series of three squares, and then on both sides of these squares, a long streak of the bacterium Erwinia carotovora has been added.
Both bacteria are initially colourless but E. carotovora produces a communication signal that CV026 can detect and respond to, and as the bacteria move through the fabric and where the bacteria then meet and interact, CV026 begins to produce its purple pigment. The area of purple colouration and its design directly reflects this interaction.