C-MOULD, is the world’s largest collection of microorganisms for use in the arts and design, with over 50 different kinds of microorganism. You can now see some of its notable bacteria, in the flesh as it were, at the wonderful Menagerie of Microbes curated by Heather Barnett and James Howie of ASCUS. Some examples of the exhibits are described below.
Bacterial War-games. The design here (above) is generated entirely by naturally pigmented bacteria, and their various and manifold interactions with each other. Inspired by the military board games of my childhood such as Risk and Campaign, here the brightly coloured plastic pieces have been replaced with microscopic armies comprising billions of cells of different bacteria. The design represents the visible outcome of a complex microscopic war. For example, the red- and purple-pigmented bacteria were aggressive, swarming to invade some of the other species, whilst blue and orange adopted defensive strategies and produce powerful, yet uncharacterized antibiotics, against red to protect their own territory. In collaboration with the MILES team, University of Surrey.
BacterioFabrication: a grown book. The bacterium Gluconoacetobacter xylinus, naturally produces films of bacterial cellulose, identical in structure to the plant based material that is found in cotton and paper. GXCELL, is a unique hyper-cellulose producing strain of this bacterium which rapidly, and sustainably, forms thick mats of this versatile and natural polysaccharide. The small book shown here was grown from and made entirely from bacteria. Not only is the fabric of its pages (GXCELL) produced by bacteria, but the book is also printed and illustrated with naturally pigmented bacteria. To our knowledge, this is the first book to be grown and produced using just bacteria (image above).
New BioMineralogies. The bacterium Cupriavidus metallidurans was originally isolated in 1976 from a highly toxic pond in an abandoned metal factory, and is notable because it withstands high concentrations of many different heavy metals. It is anthropogenic, in that it has evolved to live in toxic and metal rich man-made environments. It has also been shown to produce metallic gold, when grown in the presence of salts of this element, and may even be involved in gold deposition in nature. The strangely beautiful pendant on this necklace (above) is an amalgam of this gold-producing bacterium, deposited bacterial gold, gold, and gold salts. A saffranin stain reveals the presence of the bacterium.
BacterioAnxiolytics. Mycobacteria are an important group of bacteria which includes pathogens known to cause serious diseases in humans, including tuberculosis and leprosy. Whilst the diseases caused by this genus of bacteria can be devastating, one of its members, Mycobacterium vaccae, is ubiquitous in soil, and exposure to it has been shown to reduce anxiety, and through this effect, even the ability to learn. This work comprises an anxiety reducing snuff kit, prepared from the bacteria, and a companion handkerchief (images above). The latter is impregnated with M. vaccae, and has been stained with a specific dye ( Ziehl–Neelsen), that uniquely reveals this bacterium.