Tuesday 22 May 2012

still swarming

 There's a little feature on Simon Park & me & Serratia marcescens doing painting on page 132 in  this month's Microbiology Today, the splendid organ of the Society for General Microbiology. You might like to see it because Simon is doing the talking here and it's very nice.

Tuesday 15 May 2012

drawing with diatoms..

...or maybe not. Popular wisdom has it that you can observe diatom motility with indian ink, which will slide off the mucilage the diatoms secrete and their movement will create disruptions in the brownian motion of the ink particles in the water.

Well, nice pictures, but I'm not convinced I've had a right lot of that going on.
It's hard to tell who is responsible for what here... watching them in real time was no more revealing...

And colonies of other people are putting on a better show in the mucilage department.

All-round winners of the 50µm mucilage sack-race today seem to be these filamentous guys

though like I say, it isn't all that clear.

Monday 14 May 2012

People who live in glass houses

It is a little known fact that diatoms are the Integrated Circuits or microchips of the living world. They hook up to magnetic bacteria through bacterial nanowires and play a central role in Pond Cognition.

In fact that is not a fact, it is a story I made up on the grounds that diatoms have silicon shells. It's a good story though and I will choose to believe it.

Anyway here are some tiny tidy diatoms, lovingly crafted with the finest watercolours for your viewing pleasure. Actually if I'm being honest I made them for my own looking pleasure but don't tell my Public or they will want to pay me even less than the 47p an hour rate I can currently ask. 


An almost-botanical watercolour painting of a horsetail fern. Equisetas arvense, if you like. Not altogether accurate but the colour is pretty good. Fellow paint-nerds will appreciate that it is made of a pyrrol red, ultramrine and New Gamboge, with a phthalo green and a nameless alizarin crimson from the depths of the paintbox for the purple-blacks. And a spot of chrome oxide green on top of the black in the cracks on the sporangium on the left where the spores show through a little. 

 A nice plant, I think, with its interesting life cycle and many-tailed sperm and all, but gardening types have been telling me off for liking it as they think it shreds their mowers with its silicon walls and interferes with their begonias and whatnot.

Some more pictures of the plant, for no reason but that I like them:

Letting down a candy-floss beard of spores.

a section through the stem at one of the nodes

The flowerish structure on the sporangiophore...

turns out to be made out of springs. It's all about the spiral, is the horsetail.

and the lovely spores with their marvellous elaters.

some dry ones

some underwater

I got some germination into these gametophytes by forgetting to throw out the water I'd been keeping my stems in. Haven't managed to get anything much bigger yet as the bacteria keep scoffing them.

Some in their natural habitat

and a friend from way back wandering about amongst them.

Wednesday 9 May 2012

back to the drawing..

-Why so quiet there Roberts?
-Shh, I'm talking to plants.

— Hello Mr. Leaf
— Look out, I will sting you!
— No you won't.
—  I will too. Look how nettly I am. Look at my spiky serrate margins. I will sting you hard.
— No you won't. You are just hamming it up for effect, like my straight friend with the wacky  haircut. In fact you are actually some kind of mint.

Seems to me that if you want to get to know a plant you have to be very quiet and ask its structure how it has come to be that way. Not that a plant isn't danced into being by electrons and photons and watery sludges and like the rest of us, of course it is, just as active, just as interactive. But if I want to tell the story of me and Mr. Deadnettle leaf here, for instance, I feel I have to make a special effort with my own moving about. And being quiet is the most energy-intensive thing an animal can do, according to my good friend Mrs. Tiger who is very good at it, but reckons she needs to sleep for 18 hours a day to keep on top form.

So it's back to the old-fashioned looking and describing with a pencil-crayon for me, one of my favourite technologies.