p-Couture: A BioFunctional Purple


An agar plate containing a culture of the purple pigmented bacterium Chromobacterium violaceum.


Here is an another example of what I term added BioFunctionality. The bacterium above, Chromobacterium violaceum produces the natural pigment violacein.  As a source of natural colour there is an obvious link to the use of this bacterium  in other art and design speculations where colour is important, for example in their use to provide textile designs or dyes for clothing. Indeed, I used this bacterium and also the red pigmented bacterium Serratia marcescens, in a collaboration with artist Anna Dumitriu, to make the beautiful  BioArt dress below.


However, beyond its use just to generate colour above, violacein has also been shown to have antibiotic activity against Staphylococcus aureus, and so a handkerchief impregnated with it (below), would not only be purple in colour, but the use of it could potentially  remove MRSA from the nostrils of human carriers. Thus, beyond providing colour, violacein has additional BioFunctionality.


A simple handkerchief impregnated with the bacterium Chromobacterium violaceum.

Moreover, one can imagine a therapeutic tee-shirt which protects its wearer from developing malaria, as this purple pigment has also been shown to have powerful antimalarial activity.

Finally, this purple bacterial pigment might halt a devastating disease that threatens the world’s amphibians. In the context of species extinctions, and  the associated  decline in biodiversity, chytridiomycosis is quite possibly the most devastating  disease in recorded history. First identified in 1998, this  lethal skin disease of amphibians  is caused by the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. The disease caused by this fungus,  Chytridiomycosis,  has caused dramatic declines in the amphibians in Australia, South America, North America, Central America, New Zealand, Europe, and Africa, and this microorganism is  likely to be responsible for over 100 species extinctions since the 1970’s. In a number of recent studies violacein has been demonstrated to possess anti-fungal activity, and   consequently, to protect frogs against Chytridiomycosis.

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