Bio-artist Anna Dumitriu’s project, “Communicating Bacteria,” uses some interesting media to create a beautiful work that makes a valuable statement about the importance of understanding bacterial quorum sensing for disease control.
The infection control potential of interfering with bacterial communication and quorum sensing mechanisms is at an early stage however it is known that:
“This “census-taking” enables the group to express specific genes only at particular population densities. Quorum sensing is widespread; it occurs in numerous Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria. In general, processes controlled by quorum sensing are ones that are unproductive when undertaken by an individual bacterium but become effective when undertaken by the group. For example, quorum sensing controls bioluminescence, secretion of virulence factors, sporulation, and conjugation. Thus, quorum sensing is a mechanism that allows bacteria to function as multi-cellular organisms.” (Bassler, 2011)
Therefore an ability to block the receptors that receive quorum sensing signals would lead to bacteria that are no longer able to turn on those processes. To be able to block the expression of virulence factors (such as bacterial toxins) would render highly pathogenic organisms far less dangerous. Further down the line an understanding of the exact signalling mechanisms might even lead to the possibility of directing the behaviour of bacteria.
The Communicating Bacteria Project involves the development of a body of new work including textile designs stained with dyes made from bacteria that change colour dependent on the behaviour and communication of bacteria, crochet patterns based on bacterial responses, interactive interventions that are modelled according to behaviour and communication between bacteria, and a series of hacked antique whitework embroidered pieces that are created using genetically modified bacteria.
Central to the installation is a stunning antique Edwardian whitework dress, with Dumitriu’s additional stitching and a purple pattern created by the process of bacterial communication. The dress was laid out on a one metre square agar plate (a makeshift Petri dish from a DIY centre normally used for mixing concrete and sterilised with ethanol) and inoculated with CV026 and left to grow, be absorbed into the fibres and travel along the fine stitches. After a day or so of incubation the white CV026 was exposed to the Chromobacterium violaceum and the communication signal travelled across the fabric as the white bacteria turned purple. This process was filmed using time-lapse photography and the resulting film was projected, using 3D video mapping technology (developed by Alex May) across the dress and related objects within the final installation. The dress having been dried, sterilised and made safe.