Mark Buitenwerf

I am currently participating in the Bio Hack Academy of the Waag Society in Amsterdam.

Twice a week I get together with a few other biohackers from all over the Netherlands, Italy and Spain to work and learn together.

There will be presentation of our work on the 4th of April.

 

My goal for the Biohack Academy is to learn to work with new "materials" derived from the biohacking process.

During my course I will also try to build my own lab in my studio in Groningen.

On this page I will illustrate my weekly progress, development and research.

Week 1

 

The first week of the Biohack Academy mainly focused on safety and the use of the lab.

We learned about waring signs in chemicals as well as biological material.

I quiet quickly figured out that I will have to print some signs and label everything in my own lab as well.

 

A big aspect of lab use was how to work sterile.

Folks at the Waag already designed a sterile hood to work with.

In time I will build my own sterile hood, but for the time being I will first work with a gas burner

 

For my own design I won't be using the IKEA kitchen hood.

My design will be a lot smaller using the size of the HEPA-filter (34cm x 26cm x 3cm) and the airflow will be controlled by 4 big computer fans. Instead of MDF I will use acrylic plate, I think this will help me to maintain the hood for a longer time.

 

Week 2

 

The second week mainly focused on how to grow bacteria and fungi in the lab.

We learned how to prepare agar and how to spread the bacteria on there.

 

Together with Maarten and Manuel we experimented with making malt agar(MA) with pharmaceutical agar and agar from a local food store. We are very curious to learn which the fungi will prefer.

 

 

 

 

During this week we also learned about the different organisms available at the Waag and how microorganisms work on a chemical and biological level. Out of all the organisms the smile mold (Physarum Polycephalum) really spoke to my imagination. The smile mold is often called a smart mold because it can find it's way to a food source extremely effective. This is cool although the mold is not really a fungi though their cells are similar (Eukarya).

 

 

I am thinking about growing the slime mold in to sculptures. Also it would be awesome if i could change their color by genetic mutation.

My final idea is to see if the slime mold will organize itself to grow upward if a food source is presented above the mold.

Week 3

 

In the third week of the Bio Hack Academy we learned how to isolate microbes from food and drinks with living cultures in them.

We extracted yeast from beer and lactobacsillus from milk.

 

We also were able to take a look at the bacteria and fungi we tried to cultivate last week. It was really cool to see that we grew these tiny creatures in a petri dish. I talked with Pieter about my plans to mutate organisms and how to approach this in a safe and semi-controlled way.

 

 

 

 

I started my research like any real scientist would do: read the Wikipedia article on mutation an mutagens.

So for me as a Biohacker there are a few ways to do mutations; physical mutation, chemical mutation and mutation by metals that bind to the DNA. Pieter warned me to be cautious because everything that would bind to the DNA of bacteria and fungi will quiet possibly also bind to my own DNA. For a second I thought it would be awesome to be a part of the X-men, but cancerous reactions are unfortunately more likely.

 

Physical mutation

- Exposure to UV-light

 

Chemical mutation

- Exposure to Hydrogen peroxide

- Exposure to Nitrous Acid

- Exposure to Acetic acid

- Exposure to Tobacco

- Exposure to Benzene

 

Metals

- Exposure to Nickel

- Exposure to Chromium

- Exposure to Iron

- Exposure to Cadnium

 

I like the concept of doing these mutations and creating new variations of species by this very rough way of genetic engineering.

Especially because this project will be on the verge of legality within the European law on genetic modification.

Week 4

 

My fourth week was all about planning my own lab in my studio.

I know I will focus my project on growing bacteria and fungi.

I will leave out working with microscopy, DNA and algae for now and stick with the simple stuff.

Although I would like to do everything at once, that is simply not possible.

Still I absorb all the knowledge offered.

 

I ordered myself some petri dishes, test tubes, pipetting device, a incubator, hotplate and an awesome lab coat.

Before the Bio Hack Academy I already asked my mom, sister and grandmother to safe their glass pots for me.

So now I have a nice collection of pots.

 

 

 

 

This week we also worked with microscopy and gram staining.

We did also a DIY-level staining with food coloring

This made me wonder if a water-based paint would also work.

From my educational times I have lot's of Ecoline left which I will use in week 6 for my own staining experiments.

 

Week 5

 

The theme of this week was genetics, which was quiet complicated.

I don't know yet what I want with all this DNA, RNA, ribosomes and chromosomes, but I do believe it will be useful in the future when I am a more proficient biohacker!

 

This week I also started to look at biohacking more from my own artistic practice.

Normaly I get very inspired from new materials, with biohacking this was a bit different.

I didn't have this instant click-moment when encountering these new techniques and methods.

So I started exploring the esthetics's of what we have in the lab.

 

I like how the different species of Myceleum seem to grow in different patterns and I really appreciate the complex visuals of the slime molds. The fungi seem to appeal more to me for being more physical in nature, more tangible if you will. I am quiet intrigued by that fact that some of the fungi  and bacteria can show bio-luminescence. I haven't seen any bacteria with really vivid colors with the exception of the [JL] strong purple color, but maybe staining can work also in a more visual context.

 

I talked with Xiamyra and Pieter about more bioart projects. Maybe I am also looking more for a context or even borders for bioart, maybe a personal definition. I am starting to see the BioHack academy more as a challenge to produce an artistic output then anything else. This difficulty makes it a lot more fun. I made a few sketches for installations using my laser in combination with some magnetic steering and another sketch for combining luminescent bacteria with an audience-activated vibration motor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Week 6

 

I had a small breakthrough last weekend. I've finally designed a project that combines my biohacking, technical skill and artistic view.

Say hi to Musica Bacteria, the first record label run by bacteria. I will develop a record medium for the bacteria and fungi(they're also invited to the party) to grow on freely. I will build my own custom record player to play the records.

 

First step for me was the build the record player.

I made a simple case for the record player using makercase.

I removed the bottom using Adobe Illustrator to edit the SVG files.

Next I've used a laser-cutter to cut the design out of a piece of 3mm MDF.

For the rotating plate I used 3mm transparent acrylic plate with a diameter of 20cm.

I choose 20 cm because this is the size of the biggest petri dishes commercially available.

Also that is the biggest that would fit in my incubator.

 

 

Next step was to cultivate some bacteria for the use in the installation.

Because the installation requires color I only use pigmented bacteria.

I started the following colonies:

 

Janthinobacterium Lividum (purple)

Arthobacter Polychromogens (blue)

Arthobacter Agilis (pink)

Micrococcus Luteus (yellow)

Micrococcus Roseus (pink)

Physarum Polycephalum (yellow/orange)

Mycelium (white)

 

Further down the road I will start experiment with Cyanobacteria for a nice green color.

I will not yet start with staining bacteria, I see that more as a last resort if the regular pigmented bacteria don't suffice.

 

I will now try to expand the cultures in to lager quantities to secure a healthy population before expanding to the large 20cm petri dishes for the records. My goal this week will be to write the software that has to recognize the color of a 3x3 pixel moving matrix. Over the course of the record this matrix will slowly move to the center of the record. Just like an actual record.

 

I also believe the bacteria and fungi need to be signed to a label. But I am afraid that Sony or Universal won't sign them. I've left Dr. Dre a message  but he didn't reply yet. So I guess I'll start my own bacteria label (I assume the bacteria prefer to stay underground and indie anyway). Damn hipsters.....

 

Week 7

 

This week I continued with my project on the bacteria. I decided to tackle the mechanical problems first.

I finalized the box with some help of my fellow BioHackers.

 

The second subject to tackle was the software.

I ordered a web cam to film the bacteria and analyze their color within MAX/MSP.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am not that happy yet with my software because the range of recognized colors is still to big.

I tried adding buffers and filters for the luminance and saturation.

I also tried putting saturation filter on my video feed to reduce the grayish colors.

This reduced the amount of unwanted colors but I'm still not happy.

 

I will try to solve this problem electronically next week by using an RGB sensor on a FLORA instead of the webcam.