Inducers: phenotypic art

 

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.

 

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Self Portraits: the microbiotic paintings

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Traditionally, what we consider to be “self” is usually restricted to the collection of 40 trillion or so eukaryote cells that derive directly from the 22,000 genes of our own human genome. However, the “omic” technologies of the 21st century are radically redefining the view that we have of ourselves, so that “self” can now be seen to extend beyond the traditional precinct of our visible form, and to include our resident bacterial community. In fact, our bacterial aspect (the  microbiota and microbiome), containing maybe as many as 100 trillion normally invisible cells, and 2 million microbial genes, is at the very least equal to our eukaryotic genetics and activity.

The microbiota associated with the human body  is undoubtedly  vast in terms of numbers, but a number of recent studies  have begun to reveal its importance in for our health too. Bacteria in the gut, for example, have been shown to be capable of influencing the production of  neuroactive substances such as serotonin. Moreover in animal models, it has been shown that bacteria play a crucial role in inducing abnormal behaviours like   anxiety and depression. It seems very likely then that our microbiota, similarly, plays a role in modulating our own behaviour, and so this work stems  my thought that for every artist, either living today, or dead, that the body’s microbiome, that is its invisible hundreds of trillions of bacterial cells, could have made at least some contribution to the artist’s work, in terms of influencing the mood or health of the artist. In response to this, I decided to give this usually invisible aspect of myself  the opportunity to paint, and to express itself, away from my conscious intervention. In order to do this, I isolated  bacteria from my own microbiota and mixed these with traditional watercolours (red, green and blue). Left overnight,  in a warm incubator set to human body temperature (37 C), the bacteria grow, travel, and  interact with the paints, and thus move the watercolours   around the medium, similar to the way that an artist might paint. The paintings are thus unique self-portraits, being a direct manifestation of the power, activity and complexity of my other bacterial self. These microbiomal paintings were produced by the bacteria from my hand, gut and mouth.

Life Saturation

 

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. 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 vibrates to these invisible wavelengths and frequencies. The other striking revelation, is the amount of life and activity, and even at this microscopic level our planet is saturated with life.

A sample of water in realtime (below).

Long exposure stills which reveal the tracks made by microbes (below).

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 63.57 second exposure.

63.57 second exposure.

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 39.72 second exposure.

39.72 second exposure.

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 144.17 second exposure.

144.17 second exposure.

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 62.91 second exposure.

62.91 second exposure.

 

 

Hybrid Textiles: Cyanophytes

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Helion 15, is a unique and living biomaterial made from little more than sunlight and air. Its basis is a type of autotrophic photosynthetic bacterium called a Cyanophyte. This particular type of cyanobacterium grows in the form of  filaments which have a unique and “intelligent” self-weaving activity (see the video below), so as the organism grows, it automatically self-assembles into a mat .

In liquid cultures, the biomaterial forms complex floating  mats of interwoven filaments  (see images below)

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A freeform of the Oscillatoria-based biomaterial growing in liquid media. Small bladders of photosynthetically produced oxygen allow it to float.

 

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A freeform of the Oscillatoria-based biomaterial growing in liquid media. Small bladders of photosynthetically produced oxygen allow it to float.

 

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A freeform of the Oscillatoria-based biomaterial growing in liquid media. Small bladders of photosynthetically produced oxygen allow it to float.

One of the remarkable properties of this biomaterial is that it is able to repair itself when damaged.  In the videos below,  dress-like mats of Helion 15 are shaken and dispersed, and then over a period of around 10 minutes real-time,  they reassemble to re-generate the original forms.

When grown on solid surfaces Helion 15 forms elaborate and green curved tendrils (see images below)

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Complex forms of Helion 15 growing on a solid surface

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Complex forms of Helion 15 growing on a solid surface

 

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Complex forms of Helion 15 growing on a solid surface

 

I am  currently exploring  Helion 15  with conceptual women’s wear designer Victoria Geaney (Royal College of Art). Entitled Oscillatoria Sutured,  our work will be in an exhibition curated by Biofaction called Possible Tomorrows which will take place at Vienna Design Week (30 Sept-09 Oct).

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 but it also moves beyond the material onto the surface that holds it making it difficult to determine where the manmade material ends and the purely  biological organism begins (see images below).

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A lace/Cyanobacterium hybrid biomaterial. The bacterium infiltrates the textile (left) and then moves from the manmade textile and spreads over the surfaces beyond this so that it’s difficult to determine where the manmade material ends and the purely biological organism begins.

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A cotton/Cyanobacterium hybrid biomaterial. The bacterium infiltrates the textile (left) and then moves from the manmade textile and spreads over the surfaces beyond this so that it’s difficult to determine where the manmade material ends and the purely biological organism begins.

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A fabric /Cyanobacterium hybrid biomaterial. The bacterium infiltrates the textile (left) and then moves from the manmade textile and spreads over the surfaces beyond this so that it’s difficult to determine where the manmade material ends and the purely biological organism begins.

When the same biomaterial is viewed under the microscope, it can be seen that the cyanobacterium has also filled in some of the minute holes in the textile, adding its own designs, functions,  and embellishments to the material (see below).

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The Cyanobacterium/lace hybrid with 10x magnification.

 

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The Cyanobacterium/lace hybrid with 10x magnification.

 

When cotton is used as a substrate for the Cyanophyte similar activity is seen (seen images below)

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The Cyanobacterium/cotton hybrid with no magnification.

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The Cyanobacterium/cotton hybrid with 10x magnification.

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The Cyanobacterium/cotton hybrid with 20x magnification.

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The Cyanobacterium/cotton hybrid with 40x magnification.

British Summertime (Visions In Infrared)

Infrared imaging in the garden. Flowers and plants. Ferns, Inula, Nasturtiums, and also two bees (below)

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The bright yellow spot towards the centre of the flower is a “hot” bee. 

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The bright yellow spot towards the centre of the  top flower is a “hot” bee. N3NasturtiumNastutium2

 

Infrared imaging of the Summer sky. The small bright dots are birds in flight whose warm and feathered bodies contrast the cold and inimical environment of space (below).

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House Martin

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House Martin

Pigeon

Pigeon