Synthetic Miracles I: The Mass at Bolsena

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Media: Communion Wafer, and Serratia marecescens 

This is the first in a new series of works that replicate miracles, in the context  of our modern understanding of biology and recent advances in the biosciences like Synthetic Biology.

The Mass at Bolsena is a painting by the Italian renaissance artist Raphael that was  painted between 1512 and 1514  as part of Raphael’s commission to decorate,  with frescoes,  the rooms of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.

The painting  depicts an Eucharistic miracle that is said to have taken place in 1263 at the church of Santa Cristina in Bolsena. A Bohemian priest who doubted the doctrine of transubstantiation, was celebrating mass at Bolsena, when the bread of the eucharist began to bleed. The blood then  fell onto the tablecloth in the shape of a cross and he was reconverted. The blood stained Corporal of Bolsena is still venerated as a major relic in the Orvieto Cathedral.

Given its blood red growth, and predilection for starchy foods, it is likely that the miraculous blood appearance of blood here was due to the growth of the bacterium Serratia marcesens in the damp and warm environment of the church of Santa Cristina.

Below this miracle is recreated in the laboratory using a communion wafer and Serratia marcescens.

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The blood red pigmented bacterium Serratia marcescens growing on Plate Count Agar.

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The communion wafer before inoculation with the bacterium Serratia marcescens

 

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Blood Miracle? The communion wafer after inoculation with the blood red pigmented bacterium Serratia marcescens after 12 hours  incubation at 25 C. The inoculation was invisible at first but here the bacterium has grown and moved through the wafer curiously following the imprinted cross. 

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Blood Miracle? The communion wafer after inoculation with the blood red pigmented bacterium Serratia marcescens after 24 hours incubation at 25 C. The inoculation was invisible at first but here the bacterium has grown and moved throughout the wafer.

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