Bacteria

Explorations in the world of bacteria.

scroll down to see more

The Problem

Bacteria have a bad reputation. Too often do we consider bacteria to be something we need to eradicate from our hands, kitchens, or elsewhere. The mindset and products we have developed around dealing with bacteria are actually doing more harm than good.

Evidence suggests that using antibacterial products makes us more prone to getting sick. If you don't interact with bacteria on a regular basis your immune system isn't nearly as effective. If you didn't have a functioning immune system, simply brushing your teeth would introduce enough harmful bacteria into your bloodstream to kill you.

The overuse of antibacterial cleaning products, including disinfectants in the home, may be producing strains of bacteria that are resistant to multiple antibiotics. These antibiotic-resistant bacteria kill at least 23,000 people every year. 

Your microbiome is the ecosystem of bacteria that live inside and on your body, and its fundamental to your well-being, in fact, it's just as important as the major organs in your body. Using antibacterial products damages your microbiome and can have devastating effects on your health. 

Approach

I set off to make the invisible visible, and show the beauty in bacteria. I went around town collecting bacteria and imaged them under multiple microscopes. I also created a short informational animation about bacteria to educate others on bacterial benefits.

Collection

The easiest way to see bacteria is to take a sample from a surface and place that sample on a plate of agar, then incubate it. After incubating the agar plate for just a few days you can see the colonies with your naked eye. I had a friend help me collect the samples as I photographed our adventure. 

We made 30 samples in total, ranging from cat to tongue to public scooter. Four days later colonies were already exploding with life. 

Getting Closer

To get a closer look at the bacteria I used a stereo microscrope. The magnification amount for the next few images ranges from 0.7-11.5x.

Getting Even Closer

The pictures above are starting to transform the bacteria colonies into something unrecognizable and beautiful, but to really get a view into the scale of the bacterial world I would have to get closer.

I made slide samples from the most interesting colonies we grew. With these I could switch over to a compound light microscope where I was able to get images up to 400x magnification. 

Below is a short video highlighting some of the beauty I found in the bacterial world. 

The Animation

Lastly, I wanted to do more than just show the natural beauty hiding in the microscopic worlds of bacteria. I wanted to create an animation to explain the benefits of bacteria to those who might not understand the role they play in our lives. 

Special thanks to Nick Burger for helping collect our bacterial samples, and Julie Joo for narrating the above animation.