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Stress-o-stat
updated by Howard Boland - 20 Mar 2012


Stress-o-stat is a living artwork that visually captures stress in bacteria as light. The life-size installation, combines scientific instruments, methods and aesthetics to produce a real and speculative device.  

Howard Boland, Stress-o-Stat (2011), UK
Stress-o-stat (2011)

The work explores convergence between life and machine, where the machine controlling the bacteria becomes life-like and the bacteria, engineered through synthetic biology, machine-like.    

Stress-o-stat is a result of an immersive and independent laboratory practice using synthetic biology to develop new types of artistic expressions. 

Howard Boland, Stress-o-Stat (2011), UK
Stress-o-stat (2011) Complete setup


It involved locating a special genetic switch involved in stress response and combining this into a genetic construct to produce fluorescing proteins.

Howard Boland, Stress-o-Stat (2011), UK
Stress-o-stat (2011) Single bacterium expressing fluorescent proteins.


In practical terms, this meant having to become a scientist using evidence-based practices. The switch was located using bioinformatics and extracted from bacteria genome. Using synthetic biology standards, a library of genetic parts was available and a fluorescent expression construct was combined with the switch to complete the genetic circuit.

Howard Boland, Stress-o-Stat (2011), UK
Stress-o-stat (2011)  katE: Visualising Stress


Once implemented in bacteria, fluorescing proteins are expressed during oxidative stress producing a yellow-green colour in response to blue light.

Howard Boland, Stress-o-Stat (2011), UK
Stress-o-stat (2011)  katE: Visualising Stress

Synthetic biology tends to postulate a machine-like language onto the living, as something programmable. Paradoxically, it is the opposite of the digital; instead of the machines becoming life-like it suggests life becoming machine-like.

Howard Boland, Stress-o-Stat (2011), UK
Stress-o-stat (2011)  katE: Visualising Stress


To control stress parameters as light, the work employs a fermentation setup called a chemostat.  It consists of pumps, tubes, vessels and monitoring parts - all connected in a functional manner to maintain homeostasis in cell population.

Howard Boland, Stress-o-Stat (2011), UKStress-o-stat (2011) Journal notes

This machine is both hosting and feeding the bacteria, and draws analogies with artificial organs and life-like machines.

Howard Boland, Stress-o-Stat (2011), UK
Stress-o-stat (2011) Techfest 2012, IIT Bombay, Mumbai, India, January 2012

The installation uses light, filters and a condenser to complete the stress-sensing device both functionally and as an experimental aesthetic of scientific parts. The device probes into the invisible on a genetic level and brings this into view by allowing stress to be read as light. With changing parameters, the stress is visualised as fluctuating light. Polarised filters block out the blue light leaving us with light emitted by proteins. A condenser placed outside the device acts as a window by having cells pumped from inside the reaction vessel.

Howard Boland, Stress-o-Stat (2011), UK
Stress-o-stat (2011) Techfest 2012, IIT Bombay, Mumbai, India, January 2012 

Stress-o-stat deliberately associates itself with domestic devices such as thermometers and barometers used to extend our senses and reading of our environment. Whilst the work does not aim to guide our own senses in the world, its invention deliberates ideas of using our senses to explore other worlds.


Acknowledgements:
  

The genetic work was conducted in 2010-2011 and the chemostat construction in July 2011 at the University of Westminster. The work was featured as part of the event Synthetic Biology: Machine or Life? at the Science Museum's DANA Centre in October 2011 and was exhibited live at Techfest 2012, IIT Bombay, Mumbai, India in January 2012.

Sincerest gratitude to Dr Mark Clements. Special thanks to Armaghan Azizi, Dr Anatolyi Markiv and Neville Antonio. Constructs for testing promoter strength was originally provided by the Weizmann Institute (Prof. Uri Alon and Dr Anat Bren) and the MIT partsregistery provided an invaluable library of many fluorescent constructs for the final construction. Clare Chemical Research kindly donated a dark reader and polarised glasses.

The research is supported by a Doctoral Award from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and University of Westminster.

Other References: C-LAB:blog: Britt Wray of Fluxmedia visits C-LAB
C-LAB:blog: Cells alive n' counting
C-LAB:blog: Cellulose from bacteria
C-LAB:blog: Going solid: From Fungi to Mushroom
C-LAB:blog: Growing Magnetospirillium Gryphiswaldense
C-LAB:blog: It's here - the Spring 2012 iGEM library
C-LAB:blog: KatE in a Jar
C-LAB:blog: katE sees red with Red Fluorescent Protein (RFP)
C-LAB:blog: Red Fluorescent Protein
C-LAB:blog: Sludge Bacteria - one drop
C-LAB:blog: Stress light in growth & swarming behaviour
C-LAB:blog: Techfest Day 1: Arrival
C-LAB:blog: Techfest Day 2: Lab Trouble
C-LAB:blog: Techfest Day 3: Bacteria wake up to Indian summer
C-LAB:blog: Techfest Day 4-5: LAB-24
C-LAB:blog: Techfest Day 5: Opening
C-LAB:blog: Techfest Day 6: Living works come to life
C-LAB:blog: Techfest Day 7: Final push :)
C-LAB:event: ART FROM SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY
C-LAB:event: ART-SCIENCE TALK
C-LAB:event: BIO·FICTION 2014 SCIENCE ART FILM FESTIVAL
C-LAB:event: BIOART FORUM
C-LAB:event: CAGE RATTLING #1: KILL SWITCH
C-LAB:event: C-LAB PREMIERS LIVING SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY WORKS AT TECHFEST 2012
C-LAB:event: DO IT TOGETHER BIO #5: SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY ART
C-LAB:event: EVAPORATION OF THINGS
C-LAB:event: GRADUATE SCHOOL LAUNCH
C-LAB:event: INTO THE LABS
C-LAB:event: RE-NEW DIGITAL ARTS FESTIVAL
C-LAB:event: SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY SOCIETY KICK OFF EVENT
C-LAB:event: SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY: MACHINE OR LIFE?
C-LAB:event: THE TWO CULTURES: VISUAL ART AND THE SCIENCES C.1800-2011
C-LAB:event: YOUNG SYNTHETIC BIOLOGISTS - YSB 1.0
C-LAB:experiment: Bacteria Compass
C-LAB:experiment: Magnetically actuated Cress plants
C-LAB:project: Bacterial Light Sensor
C-LAB:project: Bacterial World
C-LAB:project: Banana Bacteria
C-LAB:project: katE - Visualising Stress
C-LAB:project: KatEred
C-LAB:project: Nanomagnetic Plants
C-LAB:project: Stress-o-stat
C-LAB:project: Sugar Rush
C-LAB:project: Transient Images
IIT Bombay
Techfest 2012
Overview
Year
2011
Status
completed
Keyword(s)
Synthetic Biology
Bacteria
Stress
Group(s)
Resource(s)
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