Proto-life: programming simple behaviours.
X-ray crystallography and incredibly powerful scientific tool used to identify the atomic and molecular structure of crystals. When matter is converted into this organised crystalline state and then exposed to a beam of incident X-rays, these diffract along many different, but specific paths. After measuring the angles and intensities of these diffracted X-rays, a three-dimensional picture of the density of electrons within the crystal can be generated. This electron density map can then be used to determine the positions of the atoms in the crystal, their arrangement, and their linking chemical bonds.
Proteins and nucleic acids can be coaxed into forming crystals, and thus X-ray crystallography has been used to determine the structure of these important biological molecules. Using the process, John Kendrew in 1958 unveiled the first protein structure ever to be seen by humankind, that of the protein Myoglobin, and then later in 1959 Max Perutz employed the same method to determine the molecular structure of Haemoglobin. Since these landmark achievements the structures of DNA, RNA, and over 90,000 proteins have been determined using X-ray crystallography, providing incredible insights into the molecular workings of life.
In this context of the above, I’ve had an obsession with the process of crystallisation ever since I read JG Ballard’s The Crystal World as a teenager. Here, I’m exploring this same crystallisation process and biology at a microscopic scale, and so I’ve mixed a culture of my own epithelial cells with a solution of urea. At first the molecules of urea move around my cells in a frenzied and random dance, but soon they start to slow down, and thus begin to recognise each other, and as they join together, this initiates an almost explosive crystallization event that rapidly consumes these minute parts of me. As they would be prior to analysis by X-ray crystallography, the protein and nucleic acids in my cells have been converted into crystals, yet they and their information is still preserved in persistent and recognisable islands, in a micrometre thin continuum of chemistry and life.
The chemical properties of pure water are universal, and unchanging, and what gives seas and oceans their unique identities, are the chemicals and minerals that exist within the water matrix, and between the spaces of its polar molecules. To make this work, the water was removed from samples of Atlantic seawater, in a manner that reveals the defining, but usually invisible, elemental signature of each. These images were taken using a Differential Interference Contrast microscope at 100-times magnification. It’s remarkable how the microscopic landscapes revealed by this process resemble so closely the ocean from which they came, as it might be seen from many thousands of metres above. The molecules have spontaneously arranged themselves into themselves into representations of waves and spume, and in a manner not unlike Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa and so in a minute spot, fractions of a centimetre in diameter, microcosm and macrocosm meet.
“ A superorganism is an ensemble of living organisms tightly integrated with their immediate material environment, so that the whole system behaves and is recognisable as an entity”.
Soil is such a superorganism, a complex physiological system in which microorganisms, inorganic particles, and water act together as a self-regulating entity. In this project soil is explored, as a vital and global scale organ, and the images here are of biopsies taken from this. Much like a histopathologist would use a microscope to examine samples of diseased human tissue to study the manifestations and origins of disease, these images form part of a histopathological study of the microbiological tissue of soil. The images here are of biopsies of the global soil organ, in its healthy and diseased state. In anthropogenic soils, the cells of the microbiome present in these biopsy samples, appear to have undergone a malignant transformation, and thus mimic the pathophysiology of cancer.
Heterosis/ Heterotic Practice: Artists and scientists working together, and far beyond the tired and rigid dynamic of the two cultures. Some of us at least, are no longer content to occupy our prescribed pigeon-holes, and speciated worlds, and seek the vigour and vibrancy offered by hybrid practice.
“This is the first version of BEMP, a unique living parabolic antenna for sending electromagnetic signals of biological origin into space”
Throughout history, mariners have infrequently reported witnessing bizarre nightime displays where the surface of the sea produces an intense, uniform, and sustained glow that extends in all directions to the horizon. This phenomenon has also occassionally been reported in ship’s logs and there is even a fictional account in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. There has been speculation that these events are due to the accumulation of massive populations of natural and marine bioluminescent bacteria and one such “milky sea” was corroborated in 1995 when a satellite imaged a glowing portion of the Ocean, the size of Yorkshire, off the Somalian coast. The light then, produced by these bacteria, can obviously escape from the Earth’s atmosphere, and into space beyond, and so a very long time before we developed the ability to do this, bacteria were sending electromagnetic signals into space, and which could be conceivably be detected by extraterrestrials.
This is the first version of BEMP, a playful and unique living parabolic antenna for sending electromagnetic signals of biological origin into space. It sent its first message in June 2015. We’re still waiting for a response!
Prebiotics are compounds that induce the growth, or activity of, microorganisms that contribute to the well-being of their human host. By far, the most common examples of prebiotics are those that are introduced into the gastrointestinal tract, where they have been shown to alter the composition of organisms in the gut microbiome. Typically prebiotics comprise non-digestible polysaccharides that pass undigested through the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract. When they pass intact into the large bowel, certain bacteria, but not all, can use them as a source of nutrition, and this mechanism has been shown to specifically stimulate the growth or activity of these advantageous bacteria
These very tasty biscuits are packed full with a prebiotic called inulin, which is an oligosaccharide made from long chains of fructose molecules. Unexpectedly, the presence of inulin subtly improves the taste and texture of the biscuits, which is an added benefit. The use of the name digestive, derives from the same name of a biscuit developed by two Scottish doctors in1839 which was formulated to aid digestion. The term “digestive” is derived from the belief that the biscuits had antacid properties due to the incorporation of sodium bicarbonate into them when they were first developed.
Just a small note of caution here. Some side effects have been associated with the consumption of inulin, particularly in sensitive persons, these being intestinal discomfort, including flatulence, bloating, stomach noises, belching, cramping and diahorrea.
The sensitivity of people to fermentable carbohydrates such as inulin falls into three categories. Nonsensitive individuals can consume 30 g/d or more of the compound almost without undesirable reactions. Sensitive persons can consume 10 g/d of the compound without undesirable reactions but might experience undesirable reactions with doses of ≥20 g/d. Finally, very sensitive persons can experience undesirable reactions at doses of ≤10 g/d.
350g butter, softened
140g caster sugar
2 egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla extract
300g plain flour
Mix 350g the softened butter and 140g caster sugar in a large bowl with a wooden spoon. Next, add 2 egg yolks and a 2 tsp of vanilla extract and briefly beat to combine the ingredients. Sift in 300g of plain flour and stir until the mixture is well combined. Next add 300g of inulin and mix to combine it with the other ingredients. Place the biscuit mix in a refrigerator for 1 hour.
Heat the oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. Roll out the dough into a rough rectangle, then use a biscuit cutter to cut your desired shapes. Bake as above for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.
Whilst every care has been taken to limit risk in the development, please please note that the author will not accept any liability for problems that arise during the making or consumption of the biscuits describe here. You make and eat them at you own risk.