We’re developing ways to change pigment/antibiotic production in Streptomyces coelicolor by inducing changes in gene expression (see images above, identical bacterial strains but different inducers present). This is not for scientific reasons but purely for aesthetic ones, and I’m guessing that this may be a form of phenotypic art.
This bacterium is a ubiquitous inhabitant of soils, where it plays a vital role in degradation and recycling of decaying natural material. These bacteria are also adept at manipulating human senses, as they emit a compound called geosmin, that is largely responsible for the intoxicating smell of woodlands in autumn and petrichor, the distinctive and beguiling aroma that accompanies the first heavy rain after a dry spell. The lab is infused with this odour.
Streptomycetes are also characterised by a very complex secondary metabolism and they produce over two-thirds of the clinically useful antibiotics of natural origin. Viewed under the microscope (see below), they form complex forms, and it’s easy to imagine these as bacterial or alien cities.