Monday, August 30, 2010

Painting With E. Coli

In the expanding space of scientific methods meets artistic endeavour comes another hybrid of human creation by the name of Growing Impressions: A scientific technique used to grow art.

Blue/white screening is a technique used to seperate and identify colony's of cells who's Chromosomal DNA have or have not been modified by introduced DNA. If the bacteria remain unmodified by the introduced DNA, they will turn blue as they continue to grow, like in the following photos. However, in Growing Impressions, you wont see any white E. Coli. These Ecoli have been produced especially to produce the blue pigment.

Amy Chase Gulden | E. Coli on Agar | Copyright Amy Chase Gulden

After the bacterium have produced the desired level of blue and have grown sufficiently, a piece of paper is pushed into the dish, that imparts the blue pigment in the E. Coli onto the paper, such as in the picture bellow.

Amy Chase Gulden | E. Coli pattern printed on paper | Copyright Amy Chase Gulden

So that's the gist, but the crux and most interesting part of the technique is how the bacteria obtain their blue tint. This is where the technique of blue/white screen comes into play.

X-gal is a particular sugar compound that when broken down in a chemical reaction by the catalyst Beta-galactosidase, forms two components: galactose and another compound that when oxidised produces a blue pigment.

E. Coli can not consume X-gal because their genes, that control metabolism of X-gal, are not coded to metabolise it, that is, they do not produce the neccessary emzyme Beta-galactosidase. However, we can give E. Coli the ability do produce the Beta-galactosidase emzyme by adding a plasmid DNA molecule that compliments the host DNA.

Amy Chase Gulden | E. Coli on Agar | Copyright Amy Chase Gulden

However the process will only work if the plasmid DNA inserted into the cell fails to combine with the host DNA. The ability of DNA introduced from outside of the cell and become one with the cell's genome is what scientists call competency. If the plasmid insert's its self with the genome, the E. Coli will have become transformed - which is what we don't want. The plasmid DNA must remain seperate from the host DNA to be able to produce the Beta-galaxtosidase.

If the plasmid does not become competent, the host DNA will produce the Beta-galactosidase whilst the plasmid DNA has a presence in the cell. The Beta-galactosidase will catalyse with the X-gal, breaking it down into glucose for the cells energy and the left over compound that produces the blue pigment allowing the cell to grow and appear blue as a result.

Amy Chase Gulden | E. Coli pattern printed on paper | Copyright Amy Chase Gulden

Varying the application of the E. Coli onto the X-gal Agar plate from thick to thin generates a different result in the growth of the E. Coli from thick to dotted.

The process has been produced by Amy Chase Gulden alongside scientist Kristin Baldwin. They're work has been and is continuing to be produced and shown in galleries around the USA.

The pictures above are mainly for demonstration purposes. Check out the Serrano Contemporary Gallery for the real stunners. Otherwise check out Amy's flickr stream that emphasises the science and process side of printing with E. Coli.

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