Luis Graça (PT), Marta de Menezes (PT) Evolution on a plate

Installation, 2014

Evolution has been defined, ever since Darwin, as descent with modification. Organisms with very short life-spans, such as bacteria, can provide an opportunity to view evolution taking place in front of our eyes.

Escherichia coli, in particular the strains K-12 and B, are among the most common laboratory bacteria as they are harmless and useful for many molecular biology experiments. Genetic mutations occur in these bacteria in the same way as they happen in other organisms. As a consequence, within a large population of E. coli it is likely that several bacteria will have mutations making them resistant to antibiotics. In the absence of an antibiotic, such mutations usually make the bacteria less fit and, as a consequence, these bacteria tend to remain at an extremely low frequency. However, when the environment changes, with the addition of antibiotics, those mutations become a critical advantage giving rise to antibiotic-resistant colonies.

In this display different plates have been seeded with the same large number of E. coli. One plate does not have antibiotic and supports the growth of many bacterial colonies that rapidly reach confluence. The other plates have different antibiotics allowing the observation of the adaptation of bacteria to those new conditions with the eventual emergence of a few colonies of antibiotic-resistant E. coli.

Luis Graça (PT)

Luis Graça has an MD from the University of Lisbon, Portugal; and a PhD in transplant immunology from the University of Oxford, UK. He developed his post-doctoral research first in Oxford and later at the Institute for Child Health Research, in Perth, Australia. He is currently Associate Professor at the Lisbon Medical School, directing a research group in cellular immunology at Instituto de Medicina Molecular. His most significant scientific contributions have been related with the development of strategies to teach the immune system not to reject transplanted organs, also known as immune tolerance. Currently he is extending his findings to the fields of allergy and autoimmunity (where the immune system attacks its own body). Luis Graça is author of 52 research publications, three patents, and is the co-founder of Acellera Therapeutics. Apart from his scientific research another interest of his is in the intersection between art and science. In this field Luis Graça has collaborated with several artists, including his long-term relationship with Marta de Menezes, and he is now scientific advisor for Ectopia and Cultivamos Cultura – two Portuguese institutions involved in fostering art-science collaborations. He has three publications in this field, describing the scientist’s view of art-science interactions.

Marta de Menezes (PT)

Marta de Menezes is a Portuguese artist (b.,1975 in Lisbon) with a degree in Fine Arts from the University in Lisbon and a MSt in History of Art and Visual Culture from the University of Oxford. She is also a PhD candidate at the University of Leiden. Her main interest is the intersection between Art and Biology, and she has been working in research laboratories to demonstrate that new biological technologies can be used as a new art medium. In 1999, de Menezes produced her first biological artwork (Nature?) by modifying the wing patterns of live butterflies. Since then, she has used diverse biological techniques, including functional MRI of the brain, to create portraits where the mind can be visualised (Functional Portraits, 2002); fluorescent DNA samples to create micro-sculptures in human cell nuclei (nucleArt, 2002); sculptures made of proteins (Proteic Portrait, 2002-2007), DNA (Innercloud, 2003; The Family, 2004) or incorporating live neurons (Tree of Knowledge, 2005) or bacteria (Decon, 2007). Her work has been presented internationally in exhibitions, articles, and lectures. She is currently the artistic director of Ectopia, an experimental art laboratory in Lisbon, and the Head of Cultivamos Cultura in southern Portugal.;