With lights turned on the secret behind Bioglyphs paintings
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With lights turned on, the secret behind Bioglyphs paintings is revealed

June 1, 2010
With lights turned on, the secret behind Bioglyphs paintings is revealed: petri dishes coated with agar support colonies of bioluminescent bacteria. This piece was created by Montana State University, Bozeman School of Art student Angela Bowlds. Bioglyphs, an exhibition of living bioluminescent paintings, brings science and art together in the form of a collaborative project involving students from the MSU School of Art, and science and engineering students from MSU's Center for Biofilm Engineering (CBE). For more information about the project, visit the Bioglyphs Web site. (Note: The CBE was established in 1990 as an NSF Engineering Research Center at Montana State University, Bozeman, to foster a new approach to university engineering and science education.) [One of 3 related images. See Next Image.]

More about this Image Bioglyphs is an art and science collaboration initiated in 2002 by members of the Center for Biofilm Engineering (CBE) and the Montana State University School of Art. Two Bioglyphs exhibitions of living bioluminescent paintings were created by teams of student and staff artists, scientists and engineers.

Microorganisms live all around us but we are rarely aware of their presence. The Bioglyphs exhibition allowed viewers to have direct sensory contact with a microscopic organism. Scientists are unsure of the exact identity of the bioluminescent organisms that were used in the exhibit but they are believed to be single-celled, marine-environment bacterial isolate, probably of the Vibrio species. These bacteria only grow on a high-salt medium at relatively low temperatures--considerably lower than the internal temperature of the human body. Like many marine organisms, they produce blue light through a chemical reaction. Other Vibrio species such as Vibrio fischeri, will produce light after a certain number of organisms have accumulated. Why the light is produced by communities rather than by a single organism in these species is unknown, but the phenomenon raises questions about the nature of communal response and interaction.

In order to obtain the bacteria used in the exhibit, scientists from the CBE prepared plates with a nutrient medium that would sustain the bacteria for a limited period of time. Successful growth however, will depend on numerous factors, not all of which can be controlled. How the bacteria will respond to an environment created for them is inherently unpredictable.

When the bacteria are transferred to petri dishes, they are invisible but within 24 hours, they rapidly multiply and begin to emit a blue light. Over the course of several days, light production peaks and then begins to decline, as available nutrient is used up. This life cycle heightens our awareness of resource limitations as well as species-interdependency. [This text is copyright and was used with permission from the MSU-Bozeman Bioglyphs Project.] (Year of image: 2002)

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