Invisible Worlds

The images here represent the tracks made by infusoria as seen using a microscope at 200-times magnification. Through this process the microscopic creatures are revealed as biological wavelengths and frequencies. The images were taken over a period of a year and at many different locations in the UK. I’m struck by the incredible diversity between the sites and by the defining biological energy that each microcosm presents.

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 26.77 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 56.26 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 57.29 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 142.24 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 183.76 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 145.03 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 29.73 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 45.76 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 79.29 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 61.56 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 57.90 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 69.66 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 72.76 second exposure.

Synthetic Biologies: Winogradsky Systems for the Anthropocene

SynPetri

A Synthetic Winogradsky System powered by plastic

It’s not about deliberately designing life, but politely asking bacterial life to solve our problems. After all, they have had an unmatchable head start. Billions of years of evolutionary history has endowed bacteria with a time-tested ability to solve ecological problems

The Winogradsky Column is a simple device for culturing environmental bacteria and other microorganisms,  and forms an elegant means of demonstrating their vast diversity and complex interactions. Invented in the 1880s by Sergei Winogradsky, the device comprises a column of pond mud that has been fortified with a carbon source and a sulphur source. The column is exposed to sunlight for a period of months to years, during which nutrient gradients form that promote the growth of different microorganisms.

In the art work here, I have updated Winogradsky’s system to reflect our 21st century and new anthropogenic environment, and consequently the appearance of a ubiquitous and widespread synthetic food source for bacteria and other microbes, namely plastic. In these new Winogradsky Systems there is a source of minerals but  the only source of  carbon is plastic that I have collected from beaches and ground down. Consequently,  for a biological ecosystem to form,  at least some members of the consortia must be able to break down the plastic to release the carbon present for use by themselves, and other members of the ecology. In a sense then, I’ve  provided the conditions for a natural yet unnatural  selection, and a selective environment that should isolate plastic consuming ecologies.

After six months of incubation in the back garden, an ecosystem that appears to thrive on plastic has come into being reflecting my belief that,  given their ability to acclimate, adapt and evolve at by far the highest rate of all organisms, that microorganisms and bacteria will be central to our ability to solve many of the ecological crises that our planet now faces. In addition, with the advent of emerging genetic technologies like CRISPR taking the limelight at the moment, this processes re-empahsizes the vast power and untapped potential of this ancient and time-tested biology. The activity of this dark ecology can be seen in the images below.

345.11 second exposure.

345.11 second exposure.

165.12 second exposure.

165.12 second exposure.

233.08 second exposure.

233.08 second exposure.

In order to capture the activity of the microorganisms in the ecosystem (above),  I’ve developed a novel process, that rather than recording the movement of the microbial cells in real-time, captures the motion paths taken by microscopic creatures under the microscope (200-times magnification). Consequently, the images generated result from the accumulation of the activity tracks of these usually invisible life forms and this reveals the hugely complicated dynamic of their manifold activities and interactions within the plastic powered ecosystem. These microscopic activities, generated by the biological decay of plastic resemble the particle trails generated by radioactive decay, as seen in a bubble or cloud chamber, and suggest a deep and underlying symmetry at work. Carbon is also an unchanging constant here, a chemical currency that connects the lifeless and the living, and the natural and synthetic, reminding us that the oil that was exploited for the production of this plastic is entirely natural and was produced with the aid of ancient biological processes.

The processes at work here have generated life from plastic, and taken an inanimate form of carbon and made it vital again, without changing its actual physical identity,  but resetting its context. Without our modern scientific understanding, this phenomenon could easily be interpreted as spontaneous generation, an old scientific dogma that was discredited by the early microbiologists so there is symmetry in time here too. Finally, the video below is a time-lapse of  the ecology taken at 200-times magnification and reveals this ecology at work.

 

Ballet Infusoriae: MicroChoreography

As we experience unprecedented environmental impacts from climate change, microbes rapidly adapt to their surrounding conditions faster than other organisms. Because microbes control biogeochemical cycling of elements essential for life, this impacts every ecosystem on earth. In addition, these changes alter the transmission of plant, animal, and human disease.

Ballet Infusoriae. A time-lapse of a few scant micro litres of pond water from my garden showing photosynthetic microorganisms as they respond to light (above).

Observed under a microscope in real-time its difficult to discern purpose in the movements of the infusoria (an old and poetic term for microorganisms) so I use two processes to reveal this and to add an important non-scientific aesthetic to the works. The first process uses time-lapse at 200-times magnification to reveal the complex movements and interactions of the microbes and to uncover a complex and elegant microscopic ballet. Here the photographic microbes accumulate in the field of view as they respond to, and are attracted to, the light that I use to illuminate them for observation. In one sense here,  I am very much reminded of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and the fact that the act of observation affects the particle being observed, in that the microbes here are responding to the light the I use to observe them. In another sense, this phototactic, response gives me the opportunity to choreograph the movement of this massively important domain of life.

The second process that I’ve developed for observing microorganisms, rather than 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 is transformative, in that it converts the mundane and disregarded, into something remarkable, not by changing it, but by revealing another level of reality that is usually withheld from us. In the images below I have choreographed the movement of photosynthetic infusoria by changing the direction of the source of light (to the left of the images below) and recorded their activity (over a period of 19 minutes)  as they move towards it and away from darkness.

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 26.77 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 26.29 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 26.28 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 25.97 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 37.94 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 30.51 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 25.87 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 36.61 second exposure.

 

Invisible Worlds: the MicroPopulous of London I.

Man and his works perish, but the monuments of the infusoriae are the flinty ribs of the sea, the giant bones of huge continents, heaped into mountain-ranges over which the granite and porphyry have set their stony seal for ever. Man thrives in his little zone: the populous infusoriae crowd every nook of earth from the remote poles to the burning equatorial belt.” Will Wallace Harney

Microorganisms in a few scant micro litres of water from the Boating Lake, Regent’s Park, revealed by the motion tracks that they make at 200-times magnification (above). 

There is a form of life, that in terms of numbers and activity, dwarfs all else in our capital city. We share our city with this life but rarely consider it, yet it underpins everything that lives in London including ourselves. This life is not animal, and is not even  the invertebrates that make up between 95 and 97 percent of all animal species on Earth. This life is microscopic, and the microorganisms which inhabit this usually invisible world make up a significant part of the Earth’s biomass.

It’s easy for us to overlook this microscopic life because of it’s diminutive size and our unconscious macroscopic bias. Here though it’s not size that matters but numbers and activity, and thus in many ways the impact of this invisible world dwarfs the biology that we can see with our unaided eyes. We can choose ignore this domain of life, but we will never extricate ourselves from it as its energies permeate through everything else that lives and even our cities as here. As our activities change our planet, this vast realm of invisible life is responding and adapting, and will in turn influence dramatically the process of change in ways we are only just starting to understand.

The work here is the beginning of a new project which seeks to explore and reveal this usually hidden microbiology in the familiar setting of our nation’s capital city. On my first such outing I visited Regents Park, one of the eight Royal Parks.

The Urban skyline at The Regent’s Park

The green waters of a fountain. My first sampling point

My first sampling point was a fountain (above) whose green water suggested populations for photosynthetic microbes. I took a few micro litres of water from this fountain at observed it a 200-times magnification using my Newton Nm1 Portable field microscope (below).

The Newton Nm1 portable field microscope being used in situ at The Regent’s Park. On the grass next to the Japanese Garden. Attached is an iPhone 6 for recording images/videos.

Observed under a microscope in real-time its difficult to discern purpose in the movements of the infusoria (an old and poetic term for microorganisms) so I use two processes to reveal this and to add an important non-scientific aesthetic to the works. The first process uses time-lapse at 200-times magnification to reveal the  complex movements and interactions of the microbes and to uncover a complex and elegant  microscopic ballet.

Ballet Infusoriae. A time-lapse of a few scant micro litres of water from The Regent’s Park fountain, reveals an elegant and complex microbial ballet (below)

The second process that I’ve developed, rather than 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 is transformative, in that it converts the mundane and disregarded, into something remarkable, not by changing it, but by revealing another level of reality that is usually withheld from us. Each sample generates a unique signature of accumulated biological wavelengths and frequencies.The tracks remind me very much of the tracks made by atomic particle collisions, and radioactive decay, as recorded in cloud and bubble chambers, and whilst London’s human inhabitants go about their daily lives, the city vibrates to this incalculable frenzy of invisible biological wavelengths and frequencies (below).

Microorganisms in a few scant micro litres of water from the Fountain, Regent’s Park, revealed by the motion tracks that they make at 200-times magnification (below).

142.24 second exposure.

142.24 second exposure.

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158.78 second exposure.

55.12 second exposure.

55.12 second exposure.

 

The next sampling site was the Boating Lake.

IMG_6647

A few ducks and seagulls represent the visible life inhabiting the Boating Lake.

 

Ballet Infusoriae. A time-lapse of a few scant micro litres of water from The Regent’s Park Boating Lake, reveals an elegant and complex microbial ballet (below)

 

Microorganisms in a few scant micro litres of water from the Boating Lake, Regent’s Park, revealed by the motion tracks that they make at 200-times magnification (below).

90.32 second exposure.

90.32 second exposure.

71.62 second exposure.

71.62 second exposure.

65.66 second exposure.

65.66 second exposure.

55.29 second exposure.

55.29 second exposure.

 

And the final sampling point was the lake at the Japanese Garden.

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Four ducks represent the visible life inhabiting the lake at the Japanese Garden.

 

Ballet Infusoriae. A time-lapse of a few scant micro litres of water from lake at the Japanese Garden Regent’s Park  reveals an elegant and complex microbial ballet (below).

 

And finally here is an example video of the motion tracks appearing in real-time the iPhone connected to the Newton portable field microscope.

 

Ballet Infusoriae

Man and his works perish, but the monuments of the infusoriae are the flinty ribs of the sea, the giant bones of huge continents, heaped into mountain-ranges over which the granite and porphyry have set their stony seal for ever. Man thrives in his little zone: the populous infusoriae crowd every nook of earth from the remote poles to the burning equatorial belt.” Will Wallace Harney

These are sub micro litre samples of three natural waters. Observed under a microscope in real-time its difficult to discern purpose in the movements of the infusoria. Here though at 200-times magnification, and using time-lapse,  their complex movements and interactions are revealed. A microscopic ballet as complex as any macroscopic natural spectacle.

 

 

The MicroPopulous of Edinburgh

Microorganisms in a few micro litres of Edinburgh stream water revealed by the motion tracks that they make at 200-times magnification (below).  (apologies for the cracked iPhone screen)

 

35.68 second exposure

35.68 second exposure

I recently rain an Exploring The Invisible workshop with ASCUS at the Edinburgh International Science Festival 2017. As part of this we recorded the tracks made by microorganisms (200-times magnification) in a few scant micro litres of water collected from an Edinburgh stream.

The tracks remind me very much of the tracks made by atomic particle collisions, and radioactive decay, as recorded in cloud and bubble chambers, and whilst Edinburgh’s human inhabitants go about their daily lives, the city vibrates to this incalculable frenzy of invisible biological wavelengths and frequencies.

48.54 second exposure

48.54 second exposure

It’s easy for us to overlook this microscopic life because of it’s diminutive size and our unconscious macroscopic bias. Here though it’s not size that matters but numbers and activity, and thus in many ways the impact of this invisible world dwarfs the biology that we can see with our unaided eyes. We can choose ignore this domain of life,  but we will never extricate ourselves from it as its energies permeate through everything else that lives and even our cities as here.  As our activities change our planet, this vast realm of invisible life is responding and adapting, and will in turn influence dramatically the process of change in ways we are only just starting to understand.

54.40 second exposure.

54.40 second exposure

56.26 second exposure.

56.26 second exposure.

25.85 second exposure.

25.85 second exposure.

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46.58 second exposure.

22.97 second exposure.

22.97 second exposure.

37.41 second exposure.

37.41 second exposure.

57.29 second exposure.

57.29 second exposure.

39.62 second exposure

39.62 second exposure.

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91.69 second exposure

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92.99 second exposure

56.15 second exposure

56.15 second exposure

38.69 second exposure

38.69 second exposure

 

 

Untitled (Purple, White, and Red). Chromobacterium violaceum, Serratia marcescens, and Cloxacillin on Silk

R1R2R3

A generative and  bacterial “Rothko” for the age of Antimicrobial Resistance. The red-pigmented bacterium Serratia marcescens and the purple-pigmented bacterium Chromobacterium violaceum were both inoculated onto silk (where the darker colours are) at opposite ends to each other. Initially confined to the site of their inoculation, both bacteria soon swarm through the silk material and colour it with their respective pigments as they infiltrate its fibres. The twist here is that there are also four,  at first invisible,  circles containing  the antibiotic Cloxacillin that are only revealed after the two bacteria encounter and then respond to this drug. Red is sensitive to the antibiotic, is thus is killed upon contact,  and cannot occupy the spaces impregnated with it (the white silk circles). On the other hand,  Purple is multiply antibiotic resistant and thus still thrives in the presence of Cloxacillin, occupying the antibiotic impregnated  silk where Red cannot.