Monday, October 18, 2010

Soil microbes make great art

PLoS (Public Library of Science) Biology have launched an important new series of articles and resources for open access life sciences education.

"The Education Series combines the philosophy of the open education movement with the unrestricted access to scientific papers and data afforded by open-access publishing to present innovative approaches to teaching critical concepts, developments, and methods in biology" says the editorial in this months edition of the open access journal."By enabling students to use the same tools researchers use and to explore real data, such approaches are especially valuable—it's widely acknowledged that engaging students in active research fosters their enthusiasm for and interest in science.

By mining the promise of open education and harnessing the collective imagination and talent of PLoS Biology readers and contributors, the Education Series will create a virtual biology education library."

The first article in the series demonstrates how natural products derived from the soil bacterium Streptomyces can be used as biopigments with the hope that the work can inspire others to explore the potential of biopigments in art, industry and the classroom.

Since the spread of Streptomyces on an agar plate is determined by the boundaries of the plate, the agar can be used as a canvas, where the spores of Streptomyces can be used as paint and applied in brush strokes.

The paintbrush is first sterilised completely before being used to apply spores from another petri dish to the freshly prepared 'canvas'. If multiple strains are used, multiple colours can be achieved.

The image shown here: "Elvis Lives!" was painted on R5 media plates using S.coelicolor.

The authors (or artists?) believe that this endeavour has "the potential to lead us toward a fertile nexus between art and science" and that it is an "outstanding tool to engage students of varying academic interests across multiple age groups".


Charkoudian, L., Fitzgerald, J., Khosla, C., & Champlin, A. (2010). In Living Color: Bacterial Pigments as an Untapped Resource in the Classroom and Beyond PLoS Biology, 8 (10) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1000510

Kerfeld, C., & Gross, L. (2010). Open Education, Open Minds PLoS Biology, 8 (10) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1000508


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