4 thoughts on “yersinia pestis, insidious you are

  1. Dear Monica!
    Thanks for this really interesting blog post and the art it produced! I really like the drawing of the bacteria, with the DNA coiled inside! You say you have an aversion to them from a disease point of view – I can relate but your bacteria look very nice and friendly to me! I now finally got round to answering some of your questions.

    Q: Plague is transmitted between animals and humans via a flea vector. Can I refer to this as one cycle? Because we also have another cycle that involves the human.
    A: Absolutely! I think in fact, in technical terms this is called the sylvatic cycle. Silva Latin for wood, sylvatic “of the wood”, so referring to wild animals. The opposite would be the domestic or urban cycle.

    Q: Who is the victim in the end? And who survives?
    A: Not sure I like the idea of victim and survivor. As in the last post, there is a sort of adaptation, a mutual understanding. In a way I sometimes see the plague bacillus as a victim as well because it is so highly specialized in what it does! It is stuck in a particular niche which means it cannot move elsehwere either. So, in a way a victim of its success. Which also means it can be defeated – if there are no people it can infect because they have either all been killed or restricted their interaction and contact, then that particular outbreak or transmission or chain breaks. So that’s the end of the road for the bacterium, unless it moves back into the wild.

    Q: Does it serve a purpose?
    A: I guess the only purpose is survival? This is a bit of a deep and philosophical question to me. It is certainly not like other bacteria we have in our gut that we need for our own good, or like those mircoorganisms that help with making bread or beer, or that ferment milk.

    Q: Does the nonmotile quality benefit in some way? It seems to me it would want to move.
    A: I agree, I think motility is a benefit. The plague bacillus got rid of it because it thought it wouldn’t need it anymore. The idea in bacteria is if something (metabolic pathway, motility, maybe pigmentation/colour, things like that) is not needed, then there is no selection pressure and no pressure to accurately replicate the DNA. Thus, errors get introduced over time, parts are lost, and things become non-functional. For the bacterium, the benefit of that is that it needs to replicate less DNA, which is costly and time-consuming, so that might be an advantage. But with every ability you lose, you also adapt to the conditions you are in but limit yourself in what else you could do. So, I guess the plague bacillus does not miss its lost motility but I would think it is a benefit generally to be motile!


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  2. Dear Monica,
    I do have some questions back to you!
    The circular form is interesting and different. Do you always paint on circular forms, or is this specific for this project? What made you chose circular? I could imagine are difficult to plan maybe, but also they might remind people of a mirror or the circle of life – since this is all to do with bugs and their interaction with people.
    Will you do an exhibition of all these paintings in the end, and what happens to them afterwards? I think it would be interesting to see them all together but also certainly with the stories attached to them. They are beautiful on their own but I feel like they definitely emerge out of conversation.

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  3. I started using a circular format when I began studying microbes a few years back. I worked mostly on mylar and worked both sides of the sheet, in that case. Initially I thought of petri dishes and the fact that they are transparent, is why I worked on mylar. This presented a problem with hanging/framing.

    In this case I wanted to use the circular format because I thought I was going to be looking at “bugs”, under a microscope. The circle still connects to the petri dish. I also want the the work to have an object-like quality (precious). They will hang on a wall, but they can also sit on a shelf or table and they can be held (at least in theory). I especially like that I can hold them.
    I didn’t care for the hard-edge circular panels at the art store so my husband helped me cut these wooden forms.

    I set out to work on 12″ diameter and very soon realized the project was not going to be about producing “bugs”! I was learning science, physiology, stages and cycles. I made a second 8″ diameter form. And then with your study, I made a third 6″ form. This is only possible because I am cutting my own forms.
    I am also using materials in a different way including a different sorts of brushes. Sometimes I wish the space was much, much bigger and sometimes I want the square format back. I feel this is all “experimental”.

    I love your idea of mirror! and circle of life for sure…add in life-cycle. Yes, all of it.

    I hope to exhibit these as a grouping – yes. They wouldn’t exist without the story.
    Eventually I will be ok parting with them individually or as a group.

    Thanks for your part in this and for the questions! I’ve been thinking a lot about how I approached the work in terms of size and material.

    And thanks for your answers to my questions. These day I am understanding “adaptation” more and more.



  4. Dear Monica!
    A petri dish – of course! Classic symbol of microbiology! Or the round viewing field through a microscope. Except that in “modern” microbiology it is all done quite molecular biology – test tube reactions, sequencers, etc, so I forgot about it. Comes from sitting in front of a computer (square frame) all day. 🙂
    I’m curious to see what bug is next!


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