Biotechnology on display

A gallery-turned-laboratory fuses art and science

Kirsten Weir
Mar 8, 2007
Who knew bacteria could draw? But here I stand, staring at a series of black-and-blue line drawings of a rooster, rabbit, and spiraling helix of DNA, all by the bioluminescent bacteria Photobacterium phosphoreum. The drawings are part of It's Alive! A Laboratory of Biotech Art, a new exhibit at the gallery at Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, Massachusetts.
The photographs, taken in total darkness by Hunter O'Reilly, a geneticist and artist at Loyola University in Chicago, capture the bacteria glowing blue in their petri dishes. In the first of every pair of photographs, the healthy bacteria are glowing brightly; in the second, the organisms have begun to die and fade. O'Reilly creates the pieces by coaxing the bacteria to grow into shapes and patterns, but she doesn't pretend to have full control over her living creations. As they expire, the bacteria alter the images in unexpected...

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