"World’s First" Bacteria-Grown Book Combines Science and Culture

Dr. Simon Park's microorganisms have produced their own copy of 'On the Origin of Species.'

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Mar 29 2016, 4:50pm

Images courtesy the artist

The world’s first book grown entirely from bacteria has finally hatched from the sterile depths of scientist/artist Dr. Simon Park's laboratory in Guildford, Surrey, UK. Much like Natsai Audrey Chieza does with bacteria-dyed scarves, Dr. Park uses his background in molecular biology and microbiology to explore the intersection between science and cultural creation.

Park has accumulated the largest collection of pigmented bacteria ever recorded, according to Wired. His 'C-Mould' archive has 50 different kinds of microorganisms, each with their own color and idiosyncrasies, a sort of bacterial painter’s palette, if you will.

The book you see above was grown and designed entirely from bacteria. BacterioFabrication: a grown book is made out of biological specimen called ‘Gluconoacetobacter xylinus,’ which naturally produces films of bacterial cellulose, an organic compound with the same microbial structural frame as the plant based material found in cotton and paper. ‘Gxcell’ swiftly forms thick mats of this natural polysaccharide laying the fabric of the book’s pages.

The book was printed out and written on using naturally pigmented bacteria that we can assume is from Simon Park’s vault of vibrant bacteria. He titled the book after Darwin’s On The Origin of Species, and even illustrated what looks like a rendition of a microscopic bacterial portrait.

A collection of Park’s bacterial fabrications were recently included in the "Menagerie of Microbes" section of the Bio and Beyond visual art exhibition at the 2016 Edinburgh International Science Festival. Park’s Bacterial War-games piece was inspired by the board games of his childhood: Risk, Campaign, maybe Stratego. The artist swaps out colorful board game pieces with some of his pigmented bacterial and watches them duke it out on this large scale petri dish. Park sections off different chains of bacteria into a standoff of microscopic armies, comprised of billions of cells.

The final pattern you see below are the visible remnants of a complex microscopic battle between conflicting colored bacterias. Park recalls the battle in a post on his blog: “For example, the red- and purple-pigmented bacteria were aggressive, swarming to invade some of the other species, whilst blue and orange adopted defensive strategies and produce powerful, yet uncharacterized antibiotics, against red to protect their own territory.”

This microorganism medallion is another one of Park's pieces on display at the festival. Forged from a bacterium called ‘Cupriavidus metallidurans,’ New BioMineralogies was originally isolated in 1976 from a highly toxic pond in an abandoned metal factory. This type of anthropogenic bacteria, can withstand high concentrations of different heavy metals and has adapted to evolve in toxic environments. It produces this beautiful metallic gold tint that is revealed via what Parks calls a safranin stain.

Dr. Park tells The Creators Project, “Bacteria have many more important activities than just be colored and I my art projects as way of revealing all of the amazing things that bacteria can do, and trying to change people’s perceptions of these invisible life forms that dominate our planet in many senses.”

The book, some of Park's other artwork, and that of other artists is part of the Bio and Beyond exhibition (25 March – 13 May 2016) at Summerhall, part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival.

Check out more of Dr. Simon Park's work on his blog, here, and for updates on the Edinburgh International Science Festival, you can head over to their website here.

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