These are all works that I produced especially for the autumn meeting of the British Society for Developmental Biology, which was held in Edinburgh at the end of August 2016. The idea of having an art exhibition at a scientific meeting was a new and exciting one, and was entirely down to the imagination of conference organiser Dr Jennifer Nichols. The exhibition (of these works and biology-inspired jewellery by Aurora Lombardo) was very popular with the conference delegates, who were intrigued by the idea of biology-inspired art. To me, the chance of producing these works was a welcome return to the world of scientific images and ideas where I've spent all my working life, and the process was so exciting that now that I've started I can see that I'll be producing many more works with a biological theme
To biologists, the subjects and the significance of these pieces will be immediately obvious, but I've included a few words of explanation for non-scientists that might help to show what these images are supposed to represent
"Germline". A chimaera is an animal made up of cells from two different genetic sources, and in this case, the grey mouse is a chimaera developed from a combination of cells from white and black mouse strains. But even though the cells are mixed up in the chimaera, they may appear again in its progeny, and in this case the baby white and black mice show that the cells of the white and black strains can still give rise to living animals. This is termed "going germline", and shows that the grey mouse is a germline chimaera
"Conceptual chimaera".This version of a lab rat may not be immediately recognisable as a chimaera, but he was inspired by the idea of chimaeras. As a chimaera is made up of cells from more than one genetic origin, so this rat is made up of different patterns that come together to make a whole. (Regular readers of the blog will probably recognise the zentangle style!)
"Strains". There are hundreds of different strains of mice, and when scientists want to study mammalian genetics they usually make use of these different strains. Here are just a few of those different strains all lined up. If you're a mouse geneticist you may recognise C57/Bl6, CBA, 129, DBA, W, JF1/Mg and BALB/c
"Blastocyst". This series of four images follows the earliest stages in the development of the mouse embryo. The series starts with the 8-cell stage, and continues through the compacting embryo, the morula and the early blastocyst. They were interesting designs to digitise, because they're all round balls of cells - that is, three-dimensional structures - and it was an interesting challenge to use different densities of embroidery to give this three-dimensional effect.
"Culture". Here are some cells as they might appear in culture. The red colour scheme reflects the red and blue staining often used to stain cells for microscopic analysis (haematoxylin and eosin) but it also makes a cheerful and colourful image. The green cells suggests that more than one kind of cell is usually seen in culture
"Purkinje". And while we're on the subject of cells, here are some Purkinje cells, which are critically important cells in the brain. Of course they're not this colour when they grow in the brain, but they can sometimes take on wonderful colours when tissue sections are stained for the microscope. And I love the beautiful branching, tree-like patterns they make
"Young chick". Of course mice aren't the only animals studied by embryologists and geneticists. Work with chicken embryos has contributed a great deal to understanding of many biological processes: here is a young chick developing in the egg, perched on top of the yolk...
"Newts". This was one of my favourite pieces, because I was so pleased with the way the eggs turned out. You can't see it from the scan, but the eggs (and little embryos) are made up of four separate layers of thin embroidery. They look different depending on how the light hits the embroidery - sometimes you can see the embryos clearly, and sometimes they're hardly visible at all.
"Doe and fawn". No, deer aren't usually used as subjects in genetics and embryology, but I like deer and we have so many around here that I had to put one in. This is just a doe with her as-yet-unborn fawn
"Structural Deer". To the general public, skeletons seem to have a generally creepy image, but to the biologist they can be wonders of engineering, and as beautiful in themselves as any image of the animal to which they contribute
"Independent assortment". And finally a visual interpretation of the phenomenon of independent assortment - also known as Mendel's Second Law. Without going into details, this simply describes how genes get mixed around when eggs and sperm are being made, so that in most cases offspring may resemble their parents and siblings, but aren't absolutely identical to them. Of course there are a few exceptions to this rule, but in most vertebrate animals it holds true, and it holds true in the case of this blue and silver fish and all his blue and silver offspring