Bacterial Messages for Christmas

  

A Wise Man

A Wise Man

The Jesus Foetus

The Jesus Foetus

The Donkey

The Donkey

A Christmas Fox

A Christmas Fox

Bambi

Bambi

Forget the Queen’s Christmas speech and the Popes! These festive “glyphs” were generated just  by the process of bacteria communicating with each other. Sometimes,  I imagine that they might also be using these glyphs to communicate with us. This is what they had to say about Christmas!

Experiments in Plant BioHacking: The Video

This is a little exploratory excursion away from the world of microbes, which challenges the way that we perceive familiar life forms. The pigments that give flowers and vegetables their striking colours are generally exquisitely sensitive to the environment around them so that small changes in pH (acidity or alkalinity),or the presence or absence of metal ions dramatically affects their colour. In essence then, you can take a naturally coloured flower or vegetable, and dramatically change its colour simply by changing environmental conditions within the plant in situ. No paints or dyes were used here, just subtle and induced alterations in plant biochemistry. Here, I’ve tailored the process so that the plants reveal hidden messages about their purpose.

Experiments in Plant BioHacking

This is a little exploratory excursion away from the world of microbes, which challenges the way that we perceive familiar life forms. The pigments that give flowers and vegetables their striking colours are generally exquisitely sensitive to the environment around them so that small changes in pH (acidity or alkalinity),or the presence or absence of metal ions dramatically affects their colour. In essence then, you can take a naturally coloured flower or vegetable, and dramatically change its colour simply by changing environmental conditions within the plant in situ. No paints or dyes were used here, just subtle and induced alterations in plant biochemistry.

Assorted Bioglyphs: infinite light

A selection of Bioglyphs generated by liquid cultures of bioluminescent bacteria. These are still images of a very dynamic phenomenon and the patterns change second to second.  I have thousands of these, and as each one is unique,  I feel like I’ve briefly glimpsed infinity.

The Bioluminescent Night Light: biological temazepan

Blue light has a supposed soothing and calming effect. I’ve suffered from moderate insomnia for many years so I decided to find out whether the ethereal blue light emitted by marine bioluminescent bacteria would help me with my problem. Consequently,  I made a bioluminescent Night Light and slept under its influence for 4 days. I have to say that the light is wonderfully comforting, a beguiling faint blue constant throughout the night. In Nature, this form of light is often employed by predators as a lure, and like temazepan, I find that it has unique hypnotic and soporific propeties. Under the light’s infleunce, I sleep like a baby and dream of the sea.

Science Fiction: The Poison Master, Liz Williams

This is another work from a series that engages three of my passions, science, art and science fiction. Aspergillus flavus is a common species of mould with a rather poisonous attitude. It produces a group of compounds called aflatoxins, which are not only acutely toxic, but also amongst the most carcinogenic substances known to mankind. It’s difficult not to imagine this mould as a microbial poison master, so I took a page of Liz Williams’s book of the same name and inoculated it to see how the two Poison Masters would get on together!

Science Fiction: The Scar, China Miéville

This is the first of a series of works that engages three of my passions, science, art and science fiction. At random, I tore a page from The Scar by China Miéville and inoculated it with a bacterium whose characteristics I thought  matched the written words. The text was inoculated with the naturally red pigmented bacterium Serratia marcescens. Obviously, this strain becomes a metaphor for a type of perptual blood as it multiplies and moves around the page, and insinuates itself into the fabric of the paper. In this way, it’s characterisitcs come to match China’s writing. Bacteria actually contain haemoglobins similar to our own, and thus possess the origins of our very own blood.

Bacillus mycoides: zone of inhibition

This is a bit of fun I did with my children to show them the dangers of eating too many sweets. Bacteria are commonly used as poweful sensors for toxins and environmental pollutants so for this experiment I fed some Gummy Bear sweets to the spreading soil bacterium Bacillus mycoides. As you can see from the images above, it doesn’t have many problems with the orange sweet but it seems to find the green sweet very unpalatable and actively avoids it. The zone of no growth around the green sweet is called a zone of inhibition, and a similar method is routinely used to test the effectiveness of antibiotics against bacteria. Here the sweet would be replaced by a paper disc loaded with the antibiotic of interest.

A unique palette of living colour and attitude

This is the palette of naturally pigmented bacteria that I collected and prepared for a Wellcome Trust  project with artist JoWonder. Jo painted a living interpretation of John Millais’ famous painting “Ophelia” http://www.underthemicroscope.com/blog/artist-paints-ophelia-using-bacteria using this palette of living colour. Beyond, their colour each pigment is also unique in its inherent characterisitcs. For example, some species are aggressive and will seek to dominant the others, whilst others adopt effective defensive strategies.