Invisible Worlds: Arne RSPB Reserve Visit 1.

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 77.38 second exposure.

 Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 59.47 second exposure.

The celebrity nature presenters have gone now.  The camera lenses, machines and technologies, and the producers, have all departed.  In the aftermath of overfilled overflow car parks (this is a good thing by the way) I walk into the RSPB Arne reserve for the first time without binoculars, and with a strong sense that something that is vitally important to all of the wildlife has been neglected and left unseen one again. The reserve is wonderful, a place where people seek to draw nature closer to them by using binoculars and spotting scopes but the limitations of these devices only allows the user to observe a small part of the life and diversity that actually exists here.  Yes, the Dartford Warblers, Spoonbills, Sika Deer, the various trees, reptiles, spiders, and insects are incredible, but they are all macroscopic, and thus represent only a fraction of nature at the reserve. I carry lenses too, but mine, belong to a portable microscope. I’m looking for a kind of wildlife too, but of a type that is usually ignored because of our macroscopic bias, yet which underpins all else living here. I imagine that If I were to wave a wand that would, instantly and, magically, removed all of the microbiological life at Arne, that the reserve would rapidly become barren and devoid of all life.

I only spend a few hours at Arne but in this short amount of time my portable my microscope begins to reveal a normally invisible world, that in terms of wonder, diversity and activity, at least matches all of the life that we can usually see.

I first set my microscope up in the salty marsh close to the sea and sampled just a few micro litres of water from a briney pool.

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The portable microscope in situ on the edge of salt marsh at Arne beach.

 

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I removed just a few micro litres of water from this briney pool.

 

Below is a series of videos that I took of a few micro litres of  water in the pool at 400-times magnification. The elegant microorganisms that can be seen here are called  diatoms and they represent major group of algae. A unique feature of diatom cells is that they are enclosed within a cell wall made of silica (hydrated silicon dioxide) called a frustule,  and so they seem to move like glass spaceships that are exploring invisible worlds. Diatoms are also a major group of Phytoplankton and thus make up the  base of several important aquatic food webs. In a balanced ecosystem, they provide food for a wide range of sea creatures.

 

My next microscopic stop off was at a small pond next to a boardwalk. Again, I observed a just a few micro litres of the pond water but this time using 100-times magnification.

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The pond where I removed a few micro litres of water for examination under the portable microscope.

 

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The pond next to the boardwalk.

 

Below are two  videos that I took of a few micro litres of water in the pool at 100-times magnification.

 

Again, the microscope reveals microscopic life. To reveal the extent of the activity of this usually invisible life in just a few micro litres of natural water, I’ve developed a novel process that rather than just recording micro-videos in real-time, records instead the paths taken by microscopic creatures under the microscope (see the images below). The images generated, result from the accumulation of the activity tracks of these usually invisible life forms and reveal the hugely complicated dynamic of their manifold activities and interactions. The process generates images that are in some sense similar to those of radioactive decay, or atomic particle collisions, as they are seen using cloud chambers.The process reveals  another level of reality that is usually withheld from us, and it seems that our world is empowered by and vibrates to these microscopic  wavelengths and frequencies.

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 94.74 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 40.42 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 28.97 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 77.38 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 59.47 second exposure.

GREEN MAN: a myth from the near future

“A playful work of art and science fiction, blending  art, science, fact, with a very large dose of fiction” (so do not try and repeat this please 😉 )

Introduction

The Green Man is an enigma spanning thousands of years of history, and a myth with mysterious origins. The influence of this vegetative deity permeates various faiths and cultures, and has survived countless cultural transformations, enduring, in more or less the same physical form, to this day. One of the most common interpretations of the Green Man is that of a pagan nature spirit, a symbol of humankind’s reliance on, and union with, nature, as a symbol of the underlying life-force, and of the renewed cycle of growth each Spring. This new project seeks to extend this powerful and ingrained mythology, by using emerging technologies, to generate a novel human/plant  transspecies.

Green Man then is an ongoing art-science research project exploring the development of a novel plant/human hybrid, by replicating, and perhaps even improving, ancient evolutionary processes that led to the evolution of complex life on Earth. Endosymbiosis, is a hypothesised process by which bacterial cells, and their uptake by primitive cells,  gave rise to the first complex eukaryotic cells. Two endosymbiotic events are well supported by research. Mitochondria are one of the many different types of organelles in nearly all eukaryotes, and in particular these generate energy. These organelles  are thought to have originated from Proteobacteria (Gram-negative bacteria) through endosymbiosis. Similarly, chloroplasts, which allow plants to photosynthesise, most likely originated from Cyanobacteria/Cyanophytes via the same process.

In the context of the above then, The Green Man is a provocative project that seeks to bring about a third and intentional/directed endosymbiosis and its overall aim is to introduce Cyanophytes (photosynthetic cyanobacteria), which will act as proto-chloroplasts, into my human cells and eventually into my  body, so that humanity might be reborn, as at the very least, a partially photosynthetic life form.

Phase 1. 0. Cyanophyte Culture

In this first stage of the project,  a variety of different Cyanophytes were cultured and characterised for suitability to function as  protochloroplasts. One particular strain, SynX14 was selected as the most promising candidate. See the images below:

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The Cyanophyte (proto-chloroplast) SynX14 growing on BG-11 agar.

 

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The Cyanophyte (proto-chloroplast) SynX14 growing on BG-11 agar. 10x magnification of the photosynthetic colonies.

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The Cyanophyte (proto-chloroplast) SynX14 growing on BG-11 agar. 10x magnification of the photosynthetic colonies.

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The Cyanophyte (proto-chloroplast) SynX14 growing on BG-11 agar. 10x magnification of the photosynthetic colonies.

 

For various reasons, such a cell-shape, inability to to taken up into the cytoplasm of my human cells,  the following Cyanophytes were rejected. Nevertheless, they are all still profoundly beautiful and fascinating life forms.

 

 

 

 

Phase 2.0. Cyanophyte Transfection

Having selected a suitable photosynthetic cyanotype, the next step of this project was to empower this bacterium with the ability to invade my human cells so that it could gain access to the cytoplasm of my cells and thus, to begin its evolution into a fully functioning chloroplast.  Bacteria of the Shigella species and enteroinvasive strains of Escherichia coli cause disease by invasion of the colonic epithelium, and this invasive phenotype is mediated by genes carried on 180- to 240-kb plasmids (pINV).   Upon contact with host cells, the bacteria inject, via a molecular syringe, several invasion plasmid antigens (IpaB, IpaC, and IpaA) into the cytoplasm. These bacterial  effector proteins then reprogramme, the biochemistry of the cell and    induce cytoskeletal rearrangements, and membrane changes, that lead to internalization of bacteria into the host cell. Consequently, to generate an invasive form of SynX14 the pINV plasmid was isolated from Shigella, and introduced into the Cyanophyte by electroporation.

In the images and videos below pINV.SynX14 is co-cultured with my own human cells in order to induce invasion of the proto-chloroplast.

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pINV.SynX14 in co-culture with my own human cells. The photosynthetic Cyanophytes turn the tissue culture media green.

 

In the videos below, invasion of my own human cells with pINV.SynX14. 1000-times magnification, Differential Interference Microscopy. The large structures, with distinct intracellular nuclei are me, and the smaller rod-shaped forms are the invasive Cyanophyte pINV.SynX14.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cyanophyte Xerograft

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Given what I’m about to do, a rather ironic warning on the box of the Hamilton syringe.

 

After some very anxious consideration, I finally decided to go ahead with the next phase of this project, xerotransplantation, that is the introduction my cells which contained the invasive chlorophytes into my own body.  I drew up approximately 50 micro litres of the pINV.SynX14 hybrid cell culture into a sterile 100 micro litre Hamilton 1710 RN-SYR-NDL syringe.

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The loaded Hamilton syringe containing the pINV.SynX14 hybrid cell culture

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The loaded Hamilton syringe containing the pINV.SynX14 hybrid cell culture

 

After fitting a drawn-out capillary tube needle into the compression fitting of the Hamilton syringe, I carefully injected 5  micro litres of the hybrid cells into the tissue on the top of my hand. Over the next few days, I will monitor this newly photosynthetic part of me to determine whether the new cell type injected into the lesion will be accepted by my immune system or rejected.

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The small induced photosynthetic lesion on top of my right hand.

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The small induced photosynthetic lesion on top of my right hand. 10-times magnification.

 

Phase 3.0. An unexpected loss of control 

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Day 1. The initial,  small induced photosynthetic lesion on top of my right hand. 10-times magnification. 10x magnification.

 

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Day 5. Five days post inoculation. The invasive and spreading photosynthetic granuloma.

My Green Man project has taken a couple of unexpected turns recently. In one  potentially dangerous development, the modified Cyanophytes that I developed are far more invasive than I originally planned and consequently, they are rapidly  spreading from cell to human cell on my own hand. I now have an infection that is spreading from the initial inoculum, My Green Man project has taken an unexpected and potentially dangerous turn. The modified Cyanophytes are far more invasive than I originally planned and consequently, are spreading from cell to human cell on my own hand, so that I now have an infection that is spreading, and rather bizarrely, is slowly turning me green and also photosynthetic. As the Cyanophytes replicate, and spread intercellularly, the initial lesion has transformed into a green granuloma that has formed as a consequence of the cells of my immune system attacking the invading bacteria and generating localised inflammation. I suspect that if I left the photosynthetic infection untreated,  that I would turn completely green and photosynthetic, but for now, I think that the time has now come to end the experiment before this happens so I shall now be applying antibiotics to the infection to destroy the invading Cyanophytes and to hope fully restore my own physiology.

Streptomyces:the small Gods of soil

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The bacterium Streptomyces coelicolor is an antibiotic producing soil bacteria. Grown in the lab on microbiological agar it produces a number of dark coloured pigments. It also smells divine, earthy, and reminiscent of a woodland leaf kicking walk in Autumn. Here the bacterium has been incubated for so long,  that the secondary metabolites now blacken the once clear agar, allowing it to, autogenically,  generate its  own black and white aesthetic.

 

 

Living Lace

I am currently exploring Helion 15  (a unique photosynthetic biomaterial fashioned from little more than sunlight and air)  with conceptual women’s wear designer Victoria Geaney (Royal College of Art).

We are currently characterising this exciting and unique biomaterial as it forms symbiotic relationships with traditional textiles. As it grows on these textiles. the organism not only infiltrates the fabric fibres and makes the material photosynthetic,  but it also moves beyond the material and onto the surface that holds it making it difficult to determine where the manmade material ends and where the purely biological organism begins.

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Hacked Statins

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We are pleased to announce yet another addition to C-MOULD, the world’s largest collection of microorganisms for use in art and design, as part of the new microbial gastronomy section.

Monascus purpureus is filamentous fungus noted for its role in the production of red yeast rice (RYR), a traditional fermented food in East Asian areas with a history documented back to the Han dynasty (BC 202-AD 220) in China. Recent studies have shown that this organism is able to produce abundant beneficial secondary metabolites, such as monacolin (a statin) K, γ -amino butyric acid (an antihypertensive), and dimerumic acid (an antioxidant). Monacolin K is a statin and lowers serum cholesterol levels by inhibiting HMG–CoA reductase, the rate-limiting step for cholesterol synthesis in the liver.

The active ingredient in Merck’s  prescription only statin Mevacor,  lovastatin, is actually  identical to monacolin K,  the natural statin produced by Monascus purpureus. Consequently,  availability of this fungus through C-MOULD, gives people the opportunity to grow and produce powerful cholesterol lowering drugs in the comfort of their own homes.

Finally, it also smells divine, a blend of yeasty and orangey aromas.