“We are all of us walking communities of bacteria.
The world shimmers, a pointillist landscape
made of tiny living beings”
I must confess my title is a bit of a misnomer. There are artists around the world using microorganisms to create art pieces in order to reveal the complexity and beauty of the foundational blocks of life as well as shining a light on the creative process both artists and scientists share. It is sometimes thought that art and science are diametrically opposed but this is not true. Both attempt to understand and describe the world around us and share it with all of us. Bioartists are blurring the boundaries between art and biology and are at the forefront of a biotechnology revolution fit for our times. This piece is more about what I will dub “Spontaneous BioArt”. There is no artist, its just life doing its thing. Currently La Donaira is working on a medicinal and gourmet mushroom cultivation project and this is where the Spontaneous BioArt comes in.
The photographs show microorganisms which contaminated our Agar Plates. Who knew contamination could be so beautiful! I will write a longer piece on mushroom cultivation for another entry but for simplicity sake I will just go into the very basics for this piece. Agar is a substance made from seaweed than when mixed with water and nutrients creates a jelly like substance where our mycelium grows (using a plant as an analogy the mycelium are the “roots” while the mushrooms are the “flower”.) Those nutrients also attract unwanted guests such as moulds and other microorganisms. To prevent contamination, we work in a sterilized environment but alas microorganisms have a strong will to live; It is so strong that all life on Earth evolved from bacteria-like ancestors.
Microorganisms are the building blocks of life and play central roles in many of our ecosystems. They help breaking down dead matter and cycling nutrients unto usable forms. They live in all environments, make up a big part of the global food-web and provide most of the oxygen on Earth. We can bluntly state that without them Earth would be as barren as Mars. Microorganisms also play a key role in human health. In fact we have more bacterial cells in our bodies than human cells. If you don´t believe me look it up! There´s roughly about 40 trillion bacterial cells in out body and about 30 trillion human cells. Its true that while some bacteria cause infections, most species are harmless or perform beneficial functions needed for our survival. Some of these biological functions include: digestion, immune system regulation, and serotonin and dopamine production! The relatively new field of the microbiome is fascinating and definitely worth your attention and is beyond the scope of what this article is about.
Lastly, microorganisms are everywhere floating around us at all times and here lies the magic. To think there is an invisible microscopic world living all around us and within us, shaping everything we know and love is truly one of the wonders of the world. We are all microbial microcosms sharing and co-creating this beautiful planet together. And when you feel like you need a little bit of wonder remember this: two thirds of living species on earth are invisible. Imagine all the possibilities and discoveries that await us.