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Transient Images
updated by Laura Cinti - 15 Aug 2013


Most coloured textile articles and leathers are treated with azo-dyes (also used in painters paint such as mineral oils) that subsequently can become toxic (i.e. aromatic amines) in reduced environment of which a small number are carcinogenic. Environmental cleaning of effluent textile dye involves chemical processing, however, in recent years it has become possible to employ biological organisms to perform this task in a process known as bioremediation.

Howard Boland, Art from Synthetic Biology, University of Westminster, 2013

 

Howard Boland, Transient ImagesTransient Images (2011/12), degradation of dye

Transient Images uses a consortium of sewage bacteria (mainly Clostridium) and Shewanella capable of degrading textile dyes (i.e. azo-dyes) to form images.


Transient Images (2011/12), the dye is converted into an intermediate substance that appears clear under anaerobic (without oxygen) conditions and dark blue in aerobic (with oxygen) conditions. Video shows degradation over 16 hours.

Both cultures are capable of breaking down azo-dye by scavenging electrons and further transporting these onto a conducting graphite membrane (e.g. electrode) to generate small amounts of electricity. Of interest were how these cultures were converting the dye into a milky solution during anaerobic growth and further how adding oxygen at the end of this reaction could produce a blue-grey colour. 

Howard Boland, 'Transient Images', 2011 -
Transient Images (2011/12), degradation of dye

The image changes from a dye colour, orange, to a clear solution and further to a blue colour when oxidised. A matrix of bottles with increasing amount of inoculum (bacteria culture) was used to generate an image during breakdown, appearing and then disappearing. It is this transient state of image formation that gives the work its name.


The use of sewage bacteria (donated by London sewage facilities) brings about negative experiences of grit and dirt such as smell of rot and is contrasted by their involvement in image production through their capabilities of bioremediation. As with previous studies and experiments, the approach was to establish a multi-perspective understanding of the organisms through use of microscopy to study swimming patterns and behaviour, to aspects involving smelling these cultures.


Howard Boland, 'Transient Images', 2011 -
Transient Images (2011/12), Art from Synthetic Biology, The Royal Institute of Great Britain, London, UK, April 2013

The initial work considered degradation in terms of speed, inoculum and colour changes. Since several dyes exist, each degrading at a different speed, this could allow movement through gradients of colours. Multiple bottles containing culture with dye mixture were used together to form an image by varying the inoculum. The method attempted to produce an image using fast and slow degradation so that some cultures would reach complete degradation faster than others.

 

Howard Boland, 'Transient Images', 2011 -
Transient Images (2011/12), Art from Synthetic Biology, The Royal Institute of Great Britain, London, UK, April 2013

An image would appear in a ‘transient state’ before disappearing into a milky transparent solution. Inversely (from the perspective of colour change), once this reaction completes, oxygen would be flushed in at various speeds to produce another ‘in-between’ image causing solutions to change from transparent to blue-grey. The latter reaction is a 100-fold faster than microbial degradation (e.g. 5 minutes as opposed to a range of 6 to 24 hours). 

Howard Boland, 'Transient Images', 2011 -
Transient Images (2011/12),  Art from Synthetic Biology, The Royal Institute of Great Britain, London, UK, April 2013

The experiment used high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) tubes (2 ml) reducing the amount of media needed for each experiment. Each tube was given a specific volume of inoculum (ranging from 0.1-1 ml) and filled with coloured (dye) media to make up a final volume (2 ml). Like a screen or a bitmap, bottles were organised in a matrix (e.g. 6x6 or 7x6) each acting as a ‘pixel’ for the image produced. Initial tests established volumes of inoculum required to generate contrasts. Given the time-span (e.g. 24 hours), the Growth Chamber was effective in capturing time-lapse of the experiment and became integral in generating visual outputs. Tubes were placed upside down on the diffusion filter with the camera pointing at the base of the tubes.   

Howard Boland, 'Transient Images', 2011 -
Transient Images (2011/12), Art from Synthetic Biology, The Royal Institute of Great Britain, London, UK, April 2013

Notably, a previous work Decon (Marta de Menezes, 2007) also used bacteria capable of degrading (azo) dye. Set-up in a petri dish shaped like a rectangular canvas with several enclosure filled with agar media containing dye, it re-produced the deconstructive compositions of renowned Dutch artist Piet Mondrian’s (1872-1944) Composition in Red, Blue and Yellow (Mondrian, 1930). Decon reflects on art historical notions of deconstruction that sought to redraw the figurative into abstraction, by a final disappearance of colour through dye degradation. While Transient Images clearly demarcates itself from this work, it partly shares material and methods. In Decon, degradation of azo-dyes was performed by Pseudomonas putida (Martins, 2009), a similarly pure culture to Schewanella used in early experiments but found aerobically sensitive. Instead, Transient Images use a consortium of sewage bacteria to enable more robustness to sterility, oxygen conditions and worked faster.

Howard Boland, 'Transient Images', 2011 -
Transient Images (2011/12), Art from Synthetic Biology, The Royal Institute of Great Britain, London, UK, April 2013

While the consortium of bacteria may be able to produce a total degradation of the dye and its bi-products (e.g. aromatic amines), remaining components may be toxic and possibly carcinogenic. To complete the bioremediation, a bio system was proposed by further modifying the media (e.g. by adding sawdust and dextrose [potato] broth) and inoculating it with fungi (i.e. Pleurotus) capable of converting this bi-product into a non-harmful substance.

Howard Boland, 'Transient Images', 2011 - Sketch of suggested material flow involving bio-degradation followed by fungi takeover to remove all toxic substances and produce an edible mushroom

The final step proposed growing these bottles in darkness to induce fruiting bodies or edible oyster mushrooms. As an extension to Transient Images it plays on the solidity of the scientific hypothesis, where resulting mushrooms are no longer toxic but edible, by challenging science peers to eat these. Pleurotus were grown in attempt to produce these mushrooms using a semi-solid media consisting of potato agar and sawdust. It was inoculated with three disks of Pleurotus fungi grown on agar, however, this did not yield mushrooms despite being grown in dark conditions at 30ºC for 3 months.

Howard Boland, 'Transient Images', 2011 -
Attempt to grow mushroom using a semi-solid media starting with plugs

 

Acknowledgements:   

The work was conducted in 2011-2012 and the initial compositions in January 2011 - March 2012 at the University of Westminster.

Howard Boland, Transient Images
Transient Images (2011/12), Evaporation of Things, Inspace, Scotland, March 2013

The work was featured was exhibited live at Evaporation of Things, Inspace, Edinburgh, Scotland in March 2013 and as part of Art from Synthetic Biology, UK’s first public exhibition featuring living genetically modified microorganisms at The Royal Institute of Great Britain in April 2013. 

Howard Boland, Transient Images
Transient Images (2011/12), Art from Synthetic Biology, The Royal Institute of Great Britain, London, UK, April 2013

Sincerest gratitude to Dr Mark Clements. Special thanks to Eustace Fernando, Dirk-Jan Spaanderman and Menno Borsboom.  

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:event: ART FROM SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY
C-LAB:event: ART-SCIENCE TALK
C-LAB:event: BIOART FORUM
C-LAB:event: CAGE RATTLING #1: KILL SWITCH
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: 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:project: Bacterial Light Sensor
C-LAB:project: Bacterial World
C-LAB:project: katE - Visualising Stress
C-LAB:project: KatEred
C-LAB:project: Stress-o-stat
C-LAB:project: Sugar Rush
C-LAB:project: Transient Images
Overview
Year
2011
Status
completed
Keyword(s)
Azo dye
Bacterial breakdown products
Degradation
Consortium
Consortium
Consortium
Group(s)
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