Leaves Returning Once More To Soil: Visualising The NecroPhylloplane



I ran a microbiology and art workshop at the Eden Project earlier this week for around 400 members of their team. The event was  a prelude to Eden’s groundbreaking Invisible Worlds Project which will  explore the world, that we now know, lies beyond our limited human senses. Please follow this link for more information on this unique and important project  Invisible Worlds.

As is the case, everywhere else, unseen microorganisms underpin all of the visible life at the Eden project including not only its plants, but also its visitors and staff.

At this time of year many of the native trees at Eden have shed their leaves,  and the grounds are littered with dead leaves. In turn, when broken down, this leaf litter becomes an important source of energy and carbon that contributes to the health and vitality of soil. Unseen microorganisms, and especially bacteria and fungi,  are amongst the few organisms that secrete enzymes that can break down large leaf  molecules, such as cellulose, chitin, and lignin, into smaller compounds that can be taken up by the soil biota. In a sense then, these  unsung microbes condition the leaf litter to allow it to become a central part of many soil food webs, and without these and their activity,  there would be no soil, or indeed any other life that relies upon it.

So that we could reveal these invisible, yet vital lifeforms, I walked around the site with Rachel Warmington, Eden’s plant pathologist, who collected fallen leaves for me.  In my workshop, members of the Eden Team imprinted these leaves onto Tryptone Soy Agar ( a growth medium for vegetarian bacteria) in order to transfer the invisible leaf microbiota to the agar surface.  Back in the lab, these plates were incubated to allow the bacteria and fungi to grow, and thus to become visible, and so these fallen leave that look to be dead actually aren’t. Vacated by their botanical biochemistry, these leaves are now infused with a vital cocktail of microbial life and activities.  Please see the images below.


BioSerif: Old Down Wood.


And so,  I offer a local woodland a simple and truthful statement, made from an ink made from bioluminescent bacteria, and thus ask its manifold and complex networks of life, to respond to the words made from a form of life that underpins all else living on Earth.

Intriguingly,  the organisms that first respond to this microbial message  are the Cryptozoa, tiny near invisible soil creatures that are not quite macroscopic, and yet are not quite microscopic. As they walk over the message, composed of  bioluminescent bacteria, they pick up the bacteria on their feet, and as they move over the surface of the agar, they inoculate the rest of the agar with their foot prints.  When the bioluminescent bacteria subsequently grow within this cryptozoal footfall, they form footprint dependent,  and light emitting trails that seem to add to, and embellish,  my own limited biological font. Thus, these ignored lifeforms become visible,  and then add their own glowing,  and independent,  biological serif to the text  (see images below).




Microcosm/Microcosm, Microscope/Telescope, Biology/Physics

The microscope gazes inwards to an inner space and reveals the usually invisible tracks of the microorganisms who’s activity underpins all earthly biology. The telescope on the other hand questions space and reveals the more linear and constrained movements of stars, meteors and other celestial bodies.

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 45.76 second exposure.

Biology. Tracks made by infusoria. 45.76 second exposure

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 358.37 second exposure.

Physics. Tracks made by stars. 358.37 second exposure


Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 61.56 second exposure.

Biology. Tracks made by infusoria. 61.56 second exposure


Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 314.06 second exposure.

Tracks made by stats and a meteor, 314.06 second exposure

The Disturbing Aesthetic of Antimicrobial Resistance: 4 days

“Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) threatens the effective prevention and treatment of an ever-increasing range of infections caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi. AMR is an increasingly serious threat to global public health that requires action across all government sectors and society.” (WHO).

The work here is a coloured interpretation of a recent demonstration, and study on the emergence of antibiotic resistance, via evolutionary processes  (The MegaPlate Study).

The purple coloured bacterium is resistant to the antibiotic Cloxacillin and so moves and spreads through the swim agar which is impregnated with the antibiotic. At first the red pigmented bacteria is sensitive to Cloxacillin and so its growth and movement are severely restricted.


After overnight incubation , purple has advanced and grown through the Cloxacillin containing agar. Red has not.


After two days of incubation Cloxacillin resistant purple continues to grow and spread, whilst red is restricted by its Cloxacillin sensitivity.


After two days incubation Cloxacillin resistant purple has continued to grow and spread whilst sensitive red still fails to prosper.


On day three,  purple continues to thrive and spread, but now red has also evolved resistance to Cloxacillin, and so now has begun to grown and spread.


On day four, both purple and red are fully resistant to Cloxacillin and grow and spread freely in its presence (image below). So it goes and will always go. We live in a world where bacteria have for billions of years, and will continue to do so,  solve complex problems of a biological nature, not for our benefit, but purely theirs.  For me there is a particular fission in this work as Cloxacillin once saved me from a life-threatening bacterial infection.


We’re Goin’ on a (Water) Bear Hunt

We’re goin’ on a water  bear hunt

(We’re goin’ on a water bear hunt)

We’re going to catch a big one,

(We’re going to catch a big one,) I’m not scared

(I’m not scared)

What a beautiful day!

(What a beautiful day!)


The wheel animalcule

Twin buzz sawed filter feeder

Oh no!

We’ve got to hunt some more!


A Diatom!

A glass animalcule

A microscopic spaceship glider

Oh no!

We’ve got to hunt some more!


A Paramecium!

A slipper animalcule

An invisible darter

Oh no!

We’ve got to hunt some more!



A Hydra!

The immortal and ageless animalcule

A tiny tentacled stinger

Oh no!

We’ve got to hunt some more!




Short, plump, and fat

Four pairs of legs with sharp sharp claws

Cryptobiotic, space surviver, and the most resilient animal of all




Signatures From A Parallel World

It’s icy cold in the garden today. Most of the higher plants are waiting to renew their relationship with a greater sun and huddled in the needle-less Larch trees above our garden a few Starlings scratch their songs into the cold blue sky. Visible life seems stilled by the cold. Yet, I’m out in the garden with my portable Newton NM1 Microscope looking for signatures of microbial life and its lenses reveal a very different story. In microlitre samples, from collected rainwater in a bucket, and our pond, microscopic life abounds despite the cold temperatures. A ceaseless constant that celebrates and feeds upon a lesser sun. Tracks made by these life forms can be seen below.

The video below was taken on a warmer day.  The Starlings still sing but a Robin and Wood Pigeon are also active. It shows the process happening in real-time and in situ, as the tracks made by the microorganisms emerge, via the microscope, on my iPhone screen. Biological frequencies and wavelengths emerge like particle tracks do in a Cloud Chamber after atomic collisions and I’m wondering if there is some deep connection here between the worlds of physics and biology.


Images made at different exposure times can be seen below.

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, .

Bucket Water, 39.26 second exposure.

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 53.73 second exposure.

Bucket water, 53.73 second exposure.

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 70.36 second exposure.

Pond water,70.36 second exposure.

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 65.82 second exposure.

Pond water, 65.82 second exposure.

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 144.41 second exposure.

Pond water,144.41 second exposure.

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 51.81 second exposure.

Pond water,51.81 second exposure.

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 68.67 second exposure.

Pond water, 68.67 second exposure.