Penny Thoughts

Category: Art

Microbial Art- Combining Science and Art

bloody mary

As a biologists I have spent too many hours than I’d care to admit in the lab. For a lot of that time I was trying to think of ways to find some fun in the rather dull and controlled environment. If only I had found these amazing pieces of art sooner.

A lot of work I have done has dealt with growing cells on petri dishes. This is not the most exciting of activities, but some very talented artists and scientists have found a way to make art from growing cell cultures.

The work is know as Microbial art and has been put together by  Dr. T. Ryan Gregory. It is a collection of various artists and scientists’ works brought together to show the beauty that is present in a normally “invisible” world.

I love this idea of using pretty dull lab procedures to make really individual pieces of art. Here’s a few I found when looking around the website.

image8_1This and the photo at the top of this post are by Dr Ben Jacob and you can see all of his work here. These pictures may look like paint or ink, but it is in fact made up of billions of living bacterial cells.

This picture is great as it shows the art within the petri dish itself rather than snapshots of portions of the dish like Dr Ben Jacobs and the below Erno-Erik Raitanen’s work. This piece is one of a collection of works done by the iGEM team in Osaka using  Salmonella Typhimurium bacteria that are expressing proteins that lead to fluorescence.

bacteriogram2This piece is by a Finnish artist called Erno-Erik Raitanen. This is another great piece of work using bacteria and growing them on a film negative with gelatin on the surface. The bacteria eat the gelatin and that leads to the amazing patterns seen in the photos. The film negatives are then developed and the beautiful results can be seen here.

These are only a few pictures from a huge collection that can all be found of the microbial art website. Have a browse about, some of the results are incredible. These pieces are bridging the gap that exists between science and art, and have really opened my eyes to the beauty that is hidden away from us normally.

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Luke Jerram- Glass Microbiology

Luke Jerram increases the microbiological world by 1 million times to show the beauty of the cells and pathogens that can both take away and create life.

Being a biology lover I get rather excited when biology reaches the art world. When I found these sculptures by Luke Jerram I couldn’t wait to share them on here.

Scultpures were made of numerous different pathogenic and non- pathogenic creatures including viruses, bacteria, and apicomplexa, including E. coli, adenovirus, malaria and salmonella. All sculptures are scientifically accurate and have even been used as a teaching tool in the fields of microbiology. The sculptures allow people to see these pathogens as large, 3D entities rather than the coloured, 2D forms most people are used to. This means people can really get a grasp of them as whole orgnisms rather than simply pictures in books.

The reason why these sculptures are so important is that they provide a accurate representation of the (lack of) colour of these pathogens. Unlike what many people may believe, these pathogens are in fact colourless, but due to the tecniques used in microscopy, the pathogens have to be dyed to be observed.

This means that the pictures of these critters that we are accustomed to seeing are false-coloured. Without staining, these pathogens could not be seen and therefore it has to be done. But Luke Jerram’s work has provided the opportunity to see the pathogens as their more transparent selves.

Members of the collection are currently residents at The Museum of Art and Desing (NYC), The National Glass Centre (UK), Pittsburg Glass Museum and Caixa Museum Madrid. If you are lucky enough to get the opportunity to go to one of these exhibitions.. do it!

If you want to find out more about these not-so-micro entities then visit the Luke Jerram Glass Microbiology website here. It is full of lots of information about the exhibitions and beautiful photos of some of Jerram’s work. I’ll share a few more photos here becuase I can’t narrow it down to a couple as they are all too stunning.

Fabrics of the Future: Hagfish Slime?

Clothes are important to anyone; whether you’re an avid fashionista or more of the practical sort, we all need clothes. However, the materials and fabrics of choice may be straying from the ordinary to the extraordinary in the not so distant future. The source of the  fabric for your new dress or coat could be swimming at the deep, dark depths of our ocean floor.

Research led by Atsuko Negishi at the University of Guelph in Canada has suggested that hagfish slime could be used to create a super stretchy, lycra-like fabric. The team managed to collect this slime from the hagfish and realised that it could be treated and then spun into threads much like silk.

This does seem a bit odd and gruesome, but it really is very logical to put these materials that nature provides to good use.

The majority of the fabrics we rely on today, are oil-based polymers which basically means that the materials are petroleum based. With our ever decreasing supplies of petroleum the demand for alternatives to these products is high.

Hagfish are ancient, bottom-dwelling animals that have been around for over 300 million years. If you’ve done some evolutionary biology in your time, you should definitely remember these weird creatures. When these strange, eel-like creatures are approached or attacked they release this sticky slime as a deterrent. The slime contains mucous and huge amounts of certain protein fibers that belong to a family of protein fibers called intermediate filaments. These filaments are great for making fabrics as they can be deformed and stretched to shapes and sizes very different to their original form.

The researchers aren’t quite ready to produce full on items of clothing, but they intend to pursue this concept further to hopefully create the basis for more environmentally friendly fabrics of the future.

If you want to read the original paper it can be found here.

 

Beauty in the Detail: Pollen

I shared some amazing photos of pollen a few days ago by Martin Oeggerli which you can find here. I got a great response from these and I loved the photos so I thought I’d look about for anything else similar.

I stumbled across a huge variety of images. Unlike the National Geographic photos these are non-colour pictures but I feel they still capture the beauty of the microscopic natural world that surrounds us.

The beauty that can be seen in nature, I feel is overlooked by us all. There are some stunning things that we can miss in the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives. I have recently started to realise just how much of the world I filter out when going about my daily routine. We need to start stopping more, expand our current tunnel vision and take in the wonder that surrounds us.

03 PollenMix08OLily-3

I just love how alien these pollen grains look, yet these microscopic grains float around us all the time and can cause those runny noses and watery eyes we all hate in the Spring time.

01 Pollen Ricin-Sunf-1

These amazing photos were taken by Louisa Howard using an electron microscope and her whole collection can be found here if you want to further explore these bizarre microscopic grains.

Delving into the microscopic world provides a whole new level of wonder that is far beyond our own visual abilities. Beauty can be found in all areas of life, even within the very small. Work like this gives us the opportunity to peak into this incredible world we know so little about.

 

National Geographic Pollen Photography

Pollen — Photo Gallery — National Geographic Magazine

Found these amazing shots of pollen and pollination on National Geographic. Just a reminder of how intricately beautiful life can be. There is a whole microscopic world unavailable to our normal vision but these kinds of pictures allow us to peak into the world of the small.

The above photo is by Martin Oeggerli and shows the pollen grains of a venus fly trap. The photo below, also by Oeggerli, shows small pollen grains (yellow) attached to the stigma of a geranium. This meeting will eventually lead to fertilisation of the plant.

Pollen — Photo Gallery — National Geographic Magazine

Another one of my favourites from this collection of photos is below and shows a single pollen grain of the Indian Mallow plant. It is covered in spikes which aid in attachment to bird feathers etc to enable dispersal of this pollen grain to other Indian Mallow plants.

Pollen — Photo Gallery — National Geographic Magazine

We may have stunning pieces of human made art but  it seems that we should start looking more into the world around us, and the visual beauty that surrounds us everyday.

Follow the link to see all of the amazing photos as I’ve only included a few favourites.

Pollen — Photo Gallery — National Geographic Magazine.

Hubert Duprat: Combining Nature and Art

Caddis fly larvae live in the world’s waterways and build themselves protective casings from what they can source in their surrounding environment. Normally this includes small rocks, dirt and vegetation, however, Hubert Duprat left these caddis flies no choice but to choose from some of the finest materials around. The resulting cases, as can be seen, are a one of a kind piece of work sculpted by these larvae.

Hubert provided these flies with the building blocks and the larvae acted as the architects, putting together these parts and creating some stunning results.

Caddis fly larvae aren’t exactly the most beautiful of creatures, and although impressive, their usual casings are rather unexciting. But stick them in a container of gold, pearls and gemstones and you come to appreciate more the skill and work that is put in by these larvae in their incessant need to cover themselves in stuff.

It may seem as if Hubert simply pimped out these fly larvae but even myself, not being a massive bug fan, have to admit to quite fancying a couture caddis..

Two Worlds Collide in The Mechanical Mind of Justin Gershenson-Gates

Justin Gershenson-Gates’s website, A Mechanical Mind is a treasure trove filled with the unique, the bizarre and all things mechanical.

His robot-like critters are made from a huge variety of mechanical parts, combining nature and mechanics in a way I have never seen before. I find it interesting, as a biologist, to see that the anatomy of these arthropods can still clearly be seen even though it has been replaced by materials very far from the natural.

I always love a bit of nature-themed art, and Justin’s mechanical crawlies are a new and interesting way of recreating nature. Most art projects that have a nature theme tend to use natural, organic materials. Whereas Justin’s methods include using man-made materials and parts to create these bizarre futuristic looking bugs. Maybe his next step could be to make them functional.. this is a bloody big ask but it would be brilliant.

Most of Justin’s creations are creepy crawlies but he also makes some lovely jewellery pieces, including heart pendants and a large variety of brooches. Some of the items are listed on Etsy so you can go and buy these  items for a really reasonable price; they’ll make a truly unique Christmas present!

I couldn’t resist adding a few pictures, there are a couple of jewellery pieces at the bottom too. Enjoy!

Pre-Coloured Silkworms

These strange balls of fabric are actually the raw starting material for silk; but they are normally never this vibrant. Silk is a hugely popular fabric with over $30 billion worth produced each year in China alone. Silk comes from silkworms which produce the raw material when they form cocoons. This is then removed and boiled to obtain fibroin which is the core ingredient for silk.

From here the process gets quite complex and expensive. The dying process requires huge amounts of water, dye and energy to complete and there is a lot of waste produced. However, researchers in Singapore think they have come up with a much more environmentally friendly and efficient method of producing the coloured silks without the harsh dying process.

Instead of manually dying the silk, the researchers came up with solutions that could be fed to the silkworms containing natural dyes. The dyes don’t harm the silkworms as they are natural based dyes and researchers found no negative effect on the worms. The silkworms then subsequently produce silk cocoons of the chosen colour. Not only can they make the silkworms produce different coloured cocoons, they can also provide fluorescent and glow in the dark properties to the dyes. This means the silks come straight from the silkworms in the chosen colour and potentially fluorescing.

This means no harsh dying process needs to occur. All that is needed is the extraction of the fibroin fibers and production of the fabric itself. The researchers demonstrated how this could be a potentially much more cost effective and environmentally friendly approach to silk production.

Currently most silk is harvested from silkworms in farm type environments. For this approach silkworms would have to be kept in more controlled lab-type environments so their specific diets could be provided. This could be a possibility, and silk production could take place on a much larger, commercial scale.

There’s not been too much progression with this work yet, but I still think it is pretty awesome. I like the idea of thousands of these multicoloured, fluorescing cocoons hanging around. With increasing pressure on companies to become more “green”, this provides a great opportunity to do so in the silk industry.