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Bioluminescent Bacteria Glow Brightly


Bioluminescent bacteria glow brightly in this Bioglyphs “painting” (approximately 7 x 6 feet) created in 2002 by Angela Bowlds, a student from Montana State University (MSU)–Bozeman School of Art. Bioglyphs--an exhibition of living bioluminescent paintings--brings science and art together in the form of a collaborative project involving students from the MSU School of Art, and science and engineering students from MSU’s Center for Biofilm Engineering (CBE). For more information about the project, visit the Bioglyphs website at (Note: The CBE was established in 1990 as an NSF Engineering Research Center at Montana State University–Bozeman, to foster a new approach to university engineering and science education.) [See related images: Bioglyphs Secrets Unveiled and Arch of Bioluminescence.]

Important: Use of this image is restricted. Please see “Restrictions” (below) for complete information.

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Bioglyphs is an art and science collaboration initiated in 2002 by members of the Center for Biofilm Engineering (CBE) and the Montana State University School of Art. Two Bioglyphs exhibitions of living bioluminescent paintings were created by teams of student and staff artists, scientists, and engineers in 2002.

Microorganisms live all around us but we are rarely aware of their presence. The Bioglyphs exhibition allowed viewers to have direct sensory contact with a microscopic organism. Scientists are unsure of the exact identity of the bioluminescent organisms that were used in the exhibit but they are believed to be single-celled, marine-environment bacterial isolate, probably of the Vibrio species. These bacteria only grow on a high-salt medium at relatively low temperatures—considerably lower than the internal temperature of the human body. Like many marine organisms, they produce blue light through a chemical reaction. Other Vibrio species such as Vibrio fischeri, will produce light after a certain number of organisms have accumulated. Why the light is produced by communities rather than by a single organism in these species is unknown, but the phenomenon raises questions about the nature of communal response and interaction.

In order to obtain the bacteria used in the exhibit, scientists from the CBE prepared plates with a nutrient medium that would sustain the bacteria for a limited period of time. Successful growth however, will depend on numerous factors, not all of which can be controlled. How the bacteria will respond to an environment created for them is inherently unpredictable.

When the bacteria are transferred to petri dishes, they are invisible but within 24 hours, they rapidly multiply and begin to emit a blue light. Over the course of several days, light production peaks and then begins to decline, as available nutrient is used up. This life cycle heightens our awareness of resource limitations as well as species-interdependency. [This text is copyright and was used with permission from the MSU–Bozeman Bioglyphs Project.]

Bioluminescent Bacteria Glow Brightly
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Credit: Copyright 2002, MSU-Bozeman Bioglyphs Project
Year of Image: 2000


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TIFF Format - 10.6M - 1756 x 2100 pixel image - 300 DPI


Important: Permission is granted to use this image for personal, educational, or nonprofit/non-commercial purposes only. Credit information must appear with the image: ©2002 MSU-Bozeman Bioglyphs Project. Permission to use this image in a manner not stated here must be obtained from the MSU-Bozeman Bioglyphs Project contact, Peg Dirckx at

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Last Modified: Mar 29, 2001