The Beauty Project

[phylum] is currently conducting research at the Coalesce Center for Biological Art at the University at Buffalo. During the residency, the artists will develop a new project titled Beauty that includes bacterial culturing, synthetic biology, microscopy and digital imaging, fabrication, and soil remediation.

Beauty is a hybrid biological-technological installation featuring a bio-driven artificial intelligence system that remediates a contaminated soil ecology while generating an audio-visual composition in real-time. The work creates a situation where the fates of the contaminated soil and a group of bacterial cultures are determined by artificial intelligence that develops an internal model of "beauty". This AI builds its model by observing the cooperative pattern-forming and swarming behaviors of numerous bacterial species such as Paenibacillus dendritiformis. This species of bacteria produce intricate branching growth patterns in response to environmental conditions. They are also known to aid in the bioremediation of heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (present in motor oil, coal, etc) that are often found in soils, rivers, estuarine and coastal sediments.

For the Coalesce Center residency, the [Phylum] researchers will build the system and research ways to genetically modify cultures of these bacteria to express other novel (and potentially aesthetically pleasing) features such as bioluminescence, a wider variety of growth and spatial patterns. Components of the work include culturing various species of pattern-forming bacteria (e.g. P. dendritiformis, P. Vortex, Bacillus. subtilis, Bacillus circulans), building and using a robotic microscope and camera for observing the bacterial cultures, and design and construct custom culture chambers and hardware for delivering the nutrients and chemicals.