Pond Scum: fantastic micro beasts/biological frequencies and wavelengths

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Accumulated rain water in my garden.

 

Many people would call the biological material above  scum or slime, and with derogatory intention. However, a simple and portable microscope, reveals an unescapable reality, that exists beyond the resolution of the human eye. These are dynamic and thriving ecologies in which fantastic microbeasts at micrometre scale  move with intent and purpose, hunt,  and much like us  can decide whether life is getting or worse and respond to this.  Every watery realm, be it a lake, a pond, a puddle, or a humble pool of accumulated water at the base of plant pots (as above) teems with such microscopic life. Please see the videos below for examples of the life in this plant pot pool.

 

I’ve developed a novel process that 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 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 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. Observed in this way,  the life in a simple pool of collected rainwater generates an accumulation of  biological wavelengths and frequencies, demonstrating that our world vibrates to these usually invisible energies. Please see the images below for examples of these:

195.74 second exposure.

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 183.76 second exposure.

183.76 second exposure

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 145.03 second exposure.

145.03 second exposure

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 161.85 second exposure.

161.85 second exposure

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 19.45 second exposure.

19.45 second exposure.

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 15.11 second exposure.

15.11 second exposure

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 85.58 second exposure.

85.58 second exposure

 

Microcosm/Macrocosm

The microscope gazes  inwards to an inner space and reveals the usually invisible tracks of the microorganisms who’s activity underpins all earthly biology (see images below)

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 77.38 second exposure.

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 77.38 second exposure.

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 81.30 second exposure.

81.30 second exposure, 400x magnification

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

61.56 second exposure, 400x magnification

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

45.76 second exposure, 100x magnification

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 29.73 second exposure.

29.73 second exposure, 100x magnification

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 92.07 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 127.90 second exposure.

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 56.52 second exposure.

56.52 second exposure.

 

The telescope on the other hand  questions space and reveals the more linear  and constrained movements of stars, meteors and other celestial bodies (images below).

Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 314.06 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 430.80 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 560.75 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 508.27 second exposure.Taken with NightCap Pro. Light Trails mode, 1296.92 second exposure.

 

 

 

Blood Sculpture: an autogenic speculation on the bacterial origins of blood

 

Media: blood, hydrogen peroxide, and detergent.

For many reasons, there is an intimate link between bacteria and blood. In the 1980s, bacteria were found to possess haemoglobins, and thus the same iron containing proteins that transport oxygen around the bodies of all mammals, and which give blood it’s red colour and metallic taint. Some of these haemoglobins are essential for all life, because they indirectly allow plants (via symbiotic nitrogen fixing bacteria to extract and utilise nitrogen. Besides haemoglobin, blood also contains many components that have evolutionary origins in bacteria, for example, the enzyme catalase. This work Blood Sculpture reveals this ancient biochemistry in a dramatic way. When my own blood is mixed with hydrogen peroxide and household detergent, the catalase within it, converts the hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen. Catalase has one of the highest high turnover rates of any known enzyme, so that one catalase molecule can convert millions of hydrogen peroxide molecules into water and oxygen every second. This powerful  process, and the emission of oxygen through it, drives the formation of the autogenic, bloody foaming structure here (above). Once the process is initiated I have no control over it so that the forms are generated entirely by the biochemical process, which here has intriguingly produced a heart-like form.

Below are some still images of the work.

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The blood before addition of the hydrogen peroxide/detergent mix

 

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The final heart-like autogenic blood sculpture

A Blood Miracle: a microbiological interpretation of transubstantiation

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Media: Communion Wafer and the red pigmented bacterium Serratia marcescens. 

Amongst microbiologists, the bacterium Serratia marcescens is especially noteworthy because of its production of the bright red pigment prodigiosin, and that because of this, its colonies are of a characteristically showy red colour. Very few other bacterial colonies have such a distinctive appearance making this organism very easy to identify on the basis of its colony colour alone. This characteristic, and the bacterium’s natural red aesthetic, has made it attractive to both scientists and artists alike, and it is difficult to imagine another microbe that has had a greater and more direct involvement in the arts. In fact, even before the birth of microbiology, and the discovery of bacteria, the appearance of  S. marcescens was being recorded and even inspiring artists.

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Colonies of the red pigmented bacterium Serratia marcescens. The white colonies are a visualisation of evolution, and are emergent  mutants that can no longer produce the red pigment

S. marcescens has a predilection for growing on foodstuffs, particularly those that are rich in starch, where its red-pigmented growth can be easily mistaken for blood. In this context, as long ago as the sixth century B.C., Pythagoras commented on the appearance of a red bloody material on foodstuffs. Another very similar incident was recorded in 332 B.C. at the siege of Tyre in Phoenicia (today’s Lebanon) in which the army of Alexander the Great is reported to have gained inspiration from an omen of what they perceived as drops of blood that oozed out from the bread eaten by the soldiers. Much later on, the combination of starchy Eucharist bread and damp medieval churches provided many ideal growth opportunities for S. marcescens, and many historical episodes of transubstantiation (the teaching of the Catholic Church in which the bread and the wine used in the sacrament of the Eucharist become in reality the body and blood of Christ) have been attributed to the growth of this bacterium and the production of its characteristic red pigment. In one particular episode in 1264, a priest in Bolsena, Italy, was celebrating mass when blood apparently appeared on the communion bread and dripped onto his robe. This was probably the first time that S. marcescens had directly influenced the arts, as the great master painter Raphael commemorated this apparent miracle in his fresco “The Mass of Bolsena”.

This work is a scientific recreation of Transubstantiation. To make it,  a Communion Wafer was moistened with water and then inoculated with S. marcescens. From an initial pinpoint inoculation, and after overnight incubation, the red pigmented bacterium had grown and moved through the wafer to form a cross (see image below).

 

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A Communion Wafer moistened with water,  and then inoculated with S. marcescens. From an initial pinpoint inoculation, and after overnight incubation, the red pigmented bacterium had grown and moved through the wafer to form a cross. 

After another 12 hours the bacterium had moved further through the Communion Wafer (see below).

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After an additional 12 hours incubation,  the bacterium had moved further through the Communion Wafer. 

In the final work, the Communion Wafer was heat treated to kill the bacteria and then dried in order to preserve it (see image below)

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The Blood Miracle. The dried and completed version of the work. 

 

 

 

The Skin of The Sea: where the sky touches the Ocean

Everything in nature serves a purpose, even if we do not understand it or fail to identify it. Some natural processes are so subtle it can be easy to think that they simply do not exist. Look at the sky and then at the ocean: one over the other, so distinguishable, and never seeming to touch. But they do. There is a thin layer of ocean surface in contact with the air, and in it, many chemical and biological processes take place.”  schmidtocean.org

A culture of the bioluminescent bacterium Photobacterium phosphoreum in a tea cup.The complex fluctuations in bioluminescence are generated by the bacteria as they respond to the highly dynamic film that is the Sea Surface Microlayer. 

Exploring the Invisible 2009-2011 was a Wellcome Trust funded collaborative project between artist Anne Brodie, myself, and writer and researcher Caterina Albano. The work explored the bioluminescent bacterium, Photobacterium phosphoreum, a light-emitting marine lifeform commonly found in sea water.

Through enquiry and experimentation, that transcended the traditional boundaries of art and science, the project developed a large body of photographic and moving image works and a number of live installations that reimagined our encounter with these beguiling light emitting bacteria. Please follow the link below for more information on the project

http://www.annebrodie.com/#/exploringtheinvisible/

Anne and I would spend many hours in the dark room interacting with these bacteria,  and under the influence of their beguiling cold blue light. When we were working with artificial seawater liquid cultures of them, we noticed that when we had turned our backs on the large culture flasks, and allowed them to become still for a time, the bioluminescence began to form astonishing and complex patterns at the air/liquid interface. We documented this process in a number of works. Please see the videos below.

A culture of the bioluminescent bacterium Photobacterium phosphoreum in a Petri dish. The complex fluctuations in bioluminescence are generated by the bacteria as they respond to the highly dynamic film that is the Sea Surface Microlayer.

A culture of the bioluminescent bacterium Photobacterium phosphoreum in a gravy boat. The complex fluctuations in bioluminescence are generated by the bacteria as they respond to the highly dynamic film that is the Sea Surface Microlayer.

 

A culture of the bioluminescent bacterium Photobacterium phosphoreum in a wine glass. The complex fluctuations in bioluminescence are generated by the bacteria as they respond to the highly dynamic film that is the Sea Surface Microlayer.

We didn’t know it then, but what we were observing was the activity of the sea surface microlayer (SML) or the skin of the sea. This microlayer is the top 1000 micrometres of the ocean surface, and the boundary layer where all exchange occurs between the atmosphere and the ocean. This “skin” develops at the surface of the ocean (and also on lakes and ponds) where organic compounds come into contact with the atmosphere. It affects how quickly gasses can exchange between the atmosphere and the ocean, and is critical in carbon dioxide exchanges and climate change modelling. Moreover, much research has shown that the SML contains elevated concentrations of bacteria, viruses, toxic metals and organic anthropogenic  pollutants as compared to the sub-surface water. The complex fluctuations in bioluminescence are generated by the bacteria responding to this highly dynamic layer.

In the videos above the phenomenon is viewed from above. Below is a video of a small cell with the activity of the SML being viewed side on.

The Ubiquity of Possibility

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A purple microbial ecology on the glass roof of Guildford Station

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A purple microbial ecology on the glass roof of Guildford Station

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A purple microbial ecology on the glass roof of Guildford Station

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A purple microbial ecology on the glass roof of Guildford Station

Glass is an anthropogenic material that is amongst the most inimical to microbial growth. Yet, here on the glass roofs of Guildford Station a thriving microbial  ecology has managed to establish itself (images above).  I’m not sure what it is but it looks  like the photosynthetic purple sulphur bacteria that you would usually find illuminated anoxic zones of lakes and other aquatic habitats or in Winogradsky columns. It’s as if the air fizzes with all manner of latent biological potential, in the form of its bacteria, that are just waiting to find an appropriate niche in which to thrive. Whatever this roof top ecology is made up from, it must be an exquisitely matched to the environmental niches because just a couple of yards away on the other side of the platform there is a very different one (images below). A fine example of my concept of microgeography.

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On the other side of the platform, just a few yards away, a very different microbial ecology