On Light

Yes, that's me reading a newspaper using just the light Photobacterium phosphoreum HB.

Yes, that’s me reading a newspaper using just the light from Photobacterium phosphoreum HB.

Scaling up

Scaling up

An agar plate with  Photobacterium phosphoreum HB imaged by their own bioluminescence

An agar plate with Photobacterium phosphoreum HB imaged by their own bioluminescence

Single colonies of Photobacterium phosphoreum HB imaged by their own bioluminescence

Single colonies of Photobacterium phosphoreum HB imaged by their own bioluminescence

Single colonies of Photobacterium phosphoreum HB imaged by their own bioluminescence

Single colonies of Photobacterium phosphoreum HB imaged by their own bioluminescence

As a PhD student in the 1980s, part of my research project was to clone the genes that encoded the light producing machinery from naturally occurring bioluminescent bacteria, into more familiar bacteria like E.coli, and Staphylococcus aureus, where the light that these now produced as a consequence of my genetic interventions could be used to measure gene expression and viability. I would often spend hours in a darkroom, waiting for my eyes to become more sensitive in the dark, and then looking for the tell tale blue-green glow to tell me that my cloning experiments had worked. I’ve been beguiled by this unique biological light ever since, and have used it in my teaching to engage microbiology students. Quite often I’ve also taken this phenomenon outside the laboratory in order to share its wonder with the public. My latest bioluminescent adventure is with artist Anna Dumitru, and will be an installation based on the bioluminescent bacterium Photobacterium phosphoreum HB,  and will feature at the Wellcome Trust’s On Light event running from 1st to 4th May.

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