March 31, 2016
UK scientist has created the nerdiest possible edition of The Origin of Species
by Simon Reichley
Traditionally, if one wanted a book, one would walk or drive or take the train to the nearest bookstore, where they would make their selection, hand over a couple bills, and walk out with a fresh smelling (or musty) book. These days, if you are really and truly contemporary, you might use the Internet to have books delivered right to your door! Perhaps via drone!
But everybody knows if you really want the good stuff, you gotta grow your own. Which is presumably why UK-based conceptual biologist Dr. Simon Park has done just that, and fabricated the first bacterially printed and produced book.
Dr. Park is the maintainer and curator of C-MOULD, which is said to be the worlds largest collection of colored bacteria, and he’s done some pretty fun stuff with bacteria in the past. As part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival, where the book debuted, Park also exhibited a bacterially decorated snuff box, pre-loaded with sniffable Mycobacterium vaccae, a bacterium shown to reduce anxiety and promote mental well-being; a bacterial war-game, inspired by Risk and Stratego, in which “the brightly colored plastic pieces have been replaced with microscopic armies comprising billions of cells of different bacteria”; and a pendant colored with a anthropogenic bacterium discovered in the waste water surrounding an abandoned metallurgical facility.
The book is—of course—a reprint of Charles Darwin‘s On the Origin of Species. The pages of the book were grown from GXCELL, a specially engineered strain of the bacterium Gluconoacetobacter xylinus, which produces a form of cellulose very similar to that found in cotton and paper. If properly fed, GXCELL will “rapidly, and sustainably, form thick mats of this versatile and natural polysaccharide.” The printing and illustration were done with naturally pigmented bacteria from Park’s collection.
Simon Reichley is assistant to the publishers and office manager at Melville House.