Tag Archives: Svenja Kratz

Life in the Basement: The beauty of contamination.

Kombucha contamination

Kombucha contamination

I’ve been working with the microscope and attached camera which has been set up in the basement. To get used to taking images and test out the magnification, I took a few images of the bacterial and fungal contamination which resulted in a massive disposal of the infected yeast/bacteria kombucha colonies.

Despite contaminating the kombucha something fierce, I think the pics are still pretty darn pretty.

Kombucha contamination

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Kombucha contamination

 


Slime mould madness – coming soon!

 

Slime mould (Physarum polycephalum).  Image credit: ABC

Slime mould (Physarum polycephalum). Image credit: ABC: Audrey Dussutour

The Fringes program is kicking off soon and we are in the process of organising/finalising workshops that respond to the cross-overs between Art, Science and Technology. As part of this organisation Mick and I had a meeting with microbiologist Dr Carrie Hauxwell from QUT the other week. Together we decided to develop a slime mould 3D printed maze workshop. The workshop is based on numerous studies that have found that slime moulds (despite lacking a central nervous system or brain) are able to solve mazes, by finding the shortest available distance to a food source.

Slime Mould solving a maze - finding the shortest distance to food source. Image source: Forgetomori

Slime Mould solving a maze – finding the shortest distance to food source. Image source: Forgetomori

You can read more about the amazing maze solving abilities in this Nature article.

Since they tend to find the shortest route to a food source they have also been used in studies of traffic systems to find the best connection between two destinations.

A BIT ABOUT SLIME MOULD: Slime moulds, despite their somewhat unfortunate name, are actually really awesome organisms that are relatively easy to culture and pretty darn fascinating to observe.  While they are often thought of as Fungi, they are in fact part of the Protista family. There are a huge variety of slime moulds. My favourite would have to be the cellular slime moulds.  They live most of their life as single celled organisms, but if nutrients run low and they receive the correct chemical signals, they clump together into a slug-like creature. Once they have moved to a new, more favourable location, they produce fruiting bodies and release new spores. Truly amazing!

For the workshop we will be using the more lab friendly variety: Physarum plycephalum. It has been used as a model organism in labs for a while now. As such, it has established culturing requirements and is a low risk organism to work with.  While it can be purchased from numerous biology supply companies including Southern Biological and Bio-Tek, it is also possible to find them lurking about in the botanical gardens or other woody and shaded places. Indeed, as part of the workshop, we will hopefully go on a field trip with Carrie to find our own ‘wild’ specimens. Super Fun!

We’ll be using Photoshop, InkScape and Tinkercad to design the maze and then we’ll print them with the cool 3D printers at The Edge.


Awesome Space in the Basement

Lab space in the basement almost ready to start some serious work.

Lab space in the basement almost ready to start some serious work.

Well….we are finally getting somewhere with setting up a functional lab space in the basement at The Edge. Last week I cleaned all the surfaces and mopped the area to try and limit the further spread of a fungal infection that had permeated through the kombucha cultures. It was sad to watch the lovely thick mats of kombucha being discarded. That is unfortunately just the way it often is with biology and particularly microbiology — moist, warm and nutrient rich environments are highly favoured by fungus and bacteria.

I am hoping that we can keep the contamination at bay as I start working with my micropropagation plant project. I almost have all the required materials and hope to start plant culture in earnest next week.  We are just missing the Agar. Fingers crossed that it will arrive in the next few days.

The basic lab area for plant culture in the basement at The Edge

The basic lab area for plant culture in the basement at The Edge

I have started working on cultivating sweet potatoes. They form plants and roots very easily. So far I have been able to generate numerous clones from a single potato, simply by removing stem sections with rooting buds. I am interested to see whether I can also induce root and shoot formation from very small plant sections.

Sweet potato clones

Sweet potato clones

Potato roots from eye.

Potato roots from eye.

Potato root with shoot formation.

Potato root with shoot formation.

As part of this investigation, I am hoping to start documenting this cloning process as part of an evolving exhibition upstairs. I will start with a single potato stem and cultivate the maximum number of clones each week. I am interested to see how many clones I may be able to achieve in the last three months of my position. As my skills progress, I might even be able to cultivate thousands of individual plants from miniscule cuttings. Fun!


An Update: Organising Spaces and Materials

Organised space in Edge basement for kombucha growing and art/biology workshops

Organised space in Edge basement for kombucha growing and art/biology workshops

Well…it is all starting to happen. I have started to organise the basement area to enable a better workflow for Kombucha growing and other bio-related activities. I’ve done most of the groundwork for setting up a plant micropropagation work area and hope to begin actively experimenting in the next few weeks. I will start my exploration of plant cell culture using African Violets. They seem to be a pretty standard “getting started in plant culture” option and Jane’s African Violets online store has some really beautiful varieties available including double-flower and variegated varieties. They are sold by leaf for micropropagation and can be shipped to most Australian states excl. WA and Tas. I am particularly impressed by the amazing names: Blue Dragon, Galactic Star, Ghost Dance and Rainbow’s Quiet Riot — brilliant!

Along with organising a space to start experimenting, I have also begun actively mapping out the plant/bacteria growth pod. I was originally planning to build the whole thing from scratch to learn more about electronics and wiring, but it is actually much, much cheaper to buy pre-built components and cobble them together. Most of the equipment can be bought online from Ebay at a fraction of the cost of electronics stores. The main trick will be designing the housing and keeping the elements flexible to enable a variety of specimens for sampling.

We will be buying the main components this week, which means that I can get started on the actual pod pretty soon. At this point, I anticipate that the prototype will be pretty simple (and ugly), but once the specifications have been worked out it will be easier to fit them into a custom and more visually appealing structure.

Aeroponics set up.  Image credit: Thin Arir Growing Systes.

Aeroponics set up. Image credit: Thin Air Growing Systems.

Along with these elements I am also hoping to explore aeroponics. This method is similar to hydroponics, and involves the growth of plants without soil in a moisture rich environment. I am going to trial aeroponics with bonsai trees and a basic water misting/fog device from Ebay. It should (cross fingers) work in terms of sustaining the bonsai, but I also think it would look pretty spectacular!