Communicating Bacteria


Session Title:

  • Bacteria to Elephants: Practices of Bioart

Presentation Title:

  • Communicating Bacteria




  • The “Communicating Bacteria” Project combines bioart, textiles and 3D mapped video projections to explore new research currently being undertaken in the field of bacterial communication. The project a collaboration between artist Anna Dumitriu, microbiologists Dr Simon Park and Dr John Paul and video artist Alex May.

    Bacteria have intricate communication capabilities, for example: quorum sensing (voting on issues affecting the colony and signaling their presence to other bacteria); chemotactic signaling (detecting harmful or favourable substances in the environment); and plasmid exchange (e.g. for transfer of antibiotic resistance genes). Using signaling chemicals such as Homoserine Lactone, the bacteria pass on messages to nearby cells, which can be either part of their colony or other living cells (including eukaryotic and plant cells).

    The antique whitework (white on white) embroideries are worked in to by hand with delicately stitched images of communicating bacteria whilst additional patterns are created using a genetically modified strain of Chromobacterium violaceum called CV026.  Chromobacterium violaceum is white in its natural state but turns purple when it receives a communication, since bacteria grow in colonies and individual bacteria are continually sending and receiving signals it always appears purple. But the CV026 strain is in effect mute. It can receive a chemical communication signal but cannot send one, so it only turns purple in the presence of a communication from another bacterium. When exposed to unmodified Chromobacterium violaceum it slowly turns purple as the chemical signal spreads.

    Around the time of the enlightenment the perversely difficult practice of whitework embroidery was considered to be the highest level of achievement for a woman at the same time that the male counterparts, the “gentleman scientists” began to rigorously study the Earth.  By combining whitework with microbiology Dumitriu considers paradigmatic changes in the process of scientific research.

    The final outcome of the project is an installation comprising embroidered textiles with killed bacterial decorations, objects created during the research process and delicate  3D mapped video projections that reveal the bacterial communications behaviours taking place.

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