Traditionally what we consider to be “self” is restricted to the collection of 10 trillion or so eukaryotic cells that derive directly from our own human genomes. However, the sequencing technologies of the 21st century are radically redefining this view, so that “self” can now be seen to extend beyond the traditional precinct of our own visible form, and to now include our vast, complex, and interacting bacterial ecologies. In fact, these normally invisible cells at least equal in number the count of our own human cells. Moreover, the bacteria that reside on or in our bodies are not merely present as passengers, but they empower us with metabolic functions far beyond the range of our own physiological capabilities. They may even be able to influence our health, emotions, and mental well-being.
The mE.coli project is an ongoing exploration of just one, yet very familiar species, from my own human gut microbiota, namely E.coli. This bacterium is frequently the first bacterium to colonize human infants, and thence becomes a permanent colonizer of adults. In fact, every mammal on Earth is colonized with E. coli and it’s estimated that there are 10^21 E. coli cells in our planet’s human population alone.
Ultimately, the mE.coli project seeks to repurpose this aspect my own gut microbiota/faeces, to coax it into producing cellulose, and thus to eventually make clothing from it. Meanwhile, this interim project uses my own strains of E.coli (mE. coli) and their activity to directly colour and decorate textiles. In doing so it takes something that is hidden, internal, and yet vital, and reveals it through clothing that is worn, usually as a form of display or celebration, on the outside of our bodies.