C-MOULD: Co-Curator Opportunity

The jewel-like Vogesella indigofera. Isolated from a pond that had been used as a  dump for highly  toxic waste

The jewel-like Vogesella indigofera. Isolated from a pond that had been used as a dump for highly toxic waste

Serratia marcescens (Red) and Bacillus mycoides (White) interacting. Serratia appears to produce an anitibiotic that protects it from the invading Bacillus strain

Serratia marcescens (Red) and Bacillus mycoides (White) interacting. Serratia appears to produce an anitibiotic that protects it from the invading Bacillus strain

Serratia marcescens, close-up

Serratia marcescens, close-up

The plastic/kitsch properties of Rhodococcus

The plastic/kitsch properties of Rhodococcus

Chromobacterium violaceum

Chromobacterium violaceum

The black hole at the centre is MRSA

The black hole at the centre is MRSA

Bacillus mycoides, a common soil bacterium

Bacillus mycoides, a common soil bacterium

The almost cosmic form of Pseudomonas aeruginosa

The almost cosmic form of Pseudomonas aeruginosa

I’ve just set up C-MOULD,  a unique collection and knowledge base, for microorganisms that have application within the arts. All of the microorganism featured in this blog, and many others are part of the collection. C-MOULD is now seeking an enthusiastic and committed co-curator.  Unfortunately we cannot pay you at the moment but you will be encouraged to seek funding for projects that use this unique collection, you will receive training, and will have complete access to this truly unique strain collection. Please apply or express an interest by commenting on this post.

The images above are of just some of the strains in the collection.

Photorhabdus update

Imaged in daylight. From left to right: no added carbon source, 1% glucose, and 1% glycerol. Top P.asymbiotica, Bottom P. luminescens

Imaged in daylight. From left to right: no added carbon source, 1% glucose, and 1% glycerol. Top P.asymbiotica, Bottom P. luminescens

Imaged in darkness. From left to right: no added carbon source, 1% glucose, and 1% glycerol. Top P.asymbiotica, Bottom P. luminescens

Imaged in darkness. From left to right: no added carbon source, 1% glucose, and 1% glycerol. Top P.asymbiotica, Bottom P. luminescens

I’m optimizing conditions that incease light output in the bioluminescent bacteria, Photorhabdus luminescens and Photorhabdus asymbiotica. Interesting that conditions that promote light production in P. luminescens diminish production of the orange pigment.

Optimizing Bioluminescence: choose your strain carefully

IMG_0116

Here are three stains of the bioluminescent bacterium Photobacterium phosphoreum. Identical growth conditions and growth stages, striking differences in light output. BioArtists choose your strain carefully! The upper most, and brightest strain, is the one that I use in my works. Its designation is P. phosphoreum HB (hyper bright) and it has been especially selected for its high level of bioluminescence.

Six Observations On The BioArchitecture Of Soil

IMG_0018 IMG_0019 IMG_0020 IMG_0023 IMG_0024 IMG_0025 Soil1

If a soil sample is placed onto a receptive surface the vast microbial community within  slowly emerges from it to form a complex design that reflects the microbiological properties of the orginal soil. In these particular images the generative form resembles frozen water and seeing such BioCrystaline state emerge in this way reminds me of both Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle”  and Ballard’s “Crystal World”

Self-Portraits. Media: personal bacterial microflora, crystal violet, iodine and saffranin

The works as they would appear under a microscope. They are made up of billions of differentially stained bacterial cells from my own body.

The works as they would appear under a microscope. They are made up of billions of differentially stained bacterial cells from my own body.

Gram1

A macroscopic self-portrait

Gram2

A macroscopic self-portrait

IMG_9753

A macroscopic self-portrait

IMG_9755

A macroscopic self-portrait. No man is an island

IMG_9757

A macroscopic self-portrait. No man is an island

The Gram stain is the most important staining technique used in bacteriology and is almost always the first step in identifying an unknown bacterium. It distinguishes two key types of bacteria, those that are Gram-positive (these stain purple) and those that are Gram-negative bacteria (these stain pink). The stain is usually made on a small section of a glass slide and the bacteria then observed under one 1000-times magnification using a microscope. Here I decided to adapt the Gram staining technique to investigate my own bacterial microflora, that is to use it to reveal my own Dark Biology. I see this process as a form of self-portraiture and thus decided to forego the use of a microscope and to instead increase the size of the area of the stained bacteria so that the art work would be the same size as a more conventional self-portrait. These images then are macroscopic self-portraits made from my own microscopic flora. The swathes of purple, gold, and red are in fact made by the specific staining of billions of individual bacteria cells and when the works are observed under a microscope, this reality is revealed and they are found to comprise of a multitude of microscopic and coloured dots and rods (the shape of the bacterial cells). Being made of an aspect of myself, I find the self-portraits intensely personal and also think of them as a  form of microscopic pointillism.

Physarum polycephalum: visible and UV light diptychs

   

Daylight

Daylight

Daylight

Daylight

Daylight

Daylight

UV light

UV light

UV light

UV light

UV light

UV light

Because we are drawn to the bright and the white, many of the commodities of our daily lives are manufactured to artificially express these properties, and in particular, to make them look cleaner or newer than they actually are. As a consequence of this, much of what we make contains synthetic compounds called optical brighteners.  These chemical agents work by fluorescing, that is by absorbing natural (from the sun) or artificial (from standard lighting) ultraviolet light and converting it into other colours of visible blue light, to make objects appear whiter and brighter than they otherwise are. Optical brighteners are thus commonly found in our clothes, washing powders, and importantly here, paper. In these images the slime mould Physarum polycephalum has grown on paper and is observed under normal daylight and also under ultraviolet illumination. Under UV, the paper fluoresces a blue colour because of the optical brighteners in it, whilst the slime mould appears black. This is because it absorbs UV light. This might be a manifestation of a protective mechanism whereby it produces UV absorbing pigments which protects the organism against the damaging effects of sunlight. Such a pigment my offer a natural protective factor for suncream.

Die Urpflanze: Proteus laboratorium sp. nov.

U3Shortly before Johann Wolfgang von Goethe published Die Metamorphose der Pflanzen in 1790, he engaged with the concept of the Archetypal Plant, or the Urpflanze. Whilst there is no reference to the Urpflanze in his book, it is described in his letters to Charlotte von Stein sent by Goethe during his stay in Palermo, Italy.

“Seeing such a variety of new and renewed forms, my old fancy suddenly came back to mind: among this multitude might I not discover the Primal Plant (Urpflanze)?
 
Die Urpflanze is Goethe’s imagined plant which contains embedded within it, the potential to generate all possible future forms of plant life. Taking inspiration from Goethe, I sought to rediscover Die Urpflanze by isolating primitive plant life,  and then by a process of regressive in vitro breeding, return it to its most primitive form. This is what I generated. It contains, the bare necessities for existence, but at once, is also alive with yet unimagined potential. There is a strong resonance between my Urpflanze and Ventner’s concept of the minimal bacterial genome and Mycoplasma laboratorium, a partially synthetic bacterium. Both species are minimalist life forms containing just the genes necessary for an independent existence, yet one is a testament to the emerging powers of synthetic biology, and the other an important reminder that we should not yet forget the powers of natural selection and traditional breeding.

Unbloom: in memory of my mother Judith Park

Bleed1 Bleed2 Bleed4

Here’s another brief interlude away from microbiology.  In the modern laboratory, the process of chromatography is very widely used to separate or to analyse complex mixtures.  In the process, the mixture to be investigated is dissolved into a fluid (usually an organic solvent) called the mobile phase, which is then passed through a solid and porous medium called the stationary phase. As the various constituents of the mixture travel through the system at different speeds, they eventually separate. Using this same underlying principle sophisticated laboratory devices can purify, or identify, any soluble or volatile substance provided that the correct conditions are employed.  

I was driven to explore chromatography, in an artistic sense, during the time that my mother, Judith Park, was terminally ill with breast cancer. I took flowers as the subject matter for this work as they are associated with funerals and have also attracted the eye of many an artist. At this time, I was also deeply aware that beautiful flower is only a temporary and fleeting state and so decided to use chromatography as a means to speed up its transformation into a decayed form. Immersed into a powerful solvent, the chromatographic mobile phase, the flower became the corresponding stationary phase. Within seconds it began to bleed, loosing that that had once made if beautiful to the surrounding liquid and as if releasing Munch’s red embedded eternity  

“From My Rotting Body, Flowers Shall Grow, and I Am in Them, and That Is Eternity” Edvard Munch

Autogenetic Paintings: visualizing bacterial communication

Symbio3 Symbio2 Symbio1 The starting recipe here is relatively simple, the outcome most definitely not. Two initially white pigmented bacteria Erwinia carotovora and  Chromobacterium violaceum,  CV026, (or two living and “intelligent” pigments),  have been mixed together. CV026, is a mute strain, its ability to communicate with itself, and other bacteria having been genetically disabled.  If however, it detects communication signals from other bacteria it will respond to these by producing a purple pigment.  Erwinia carotovora is an unrelated species that produces such a communication signal. The painting begins life as a white splodge, as if an artist had painted white acrylic or oil paint onto a canvas, but unlike conventional paints, as the two living pigments interact, and communicate with each other, a complex and unique autogenic glyph emerges. I like to think of these as bacterial versions of Keith Tyson’s Nature Paintings.