“Make Do and Mend” references the 75th anniversary of the first use of penicillin in a human patient in 1941. It takes the form of an altered vintage wartime woman’s suit marked with the British Board of Trade’s utility logo CC41, which stands for ‘Controlled Commodity 1941’ meaning that the use of materials had been deemed to meet the government’s austerity regulations.
The holes and stains in the suit have been patched and embroidered with silk patterned with E. coli bacteria. The genomes of these bacteria have been genetically modified using a cutting-edge technique called CRISPR that allows researchers to cut and paste DNA.
The artist removed the gene responsible for resistance to the antibiotic ampicillin and scarlessly patched the bacterium’s DNA to encode the World War II slogan “Make Do and Mend”, using today’s latest technology to ‘mend’ the organism back to its pre-1941, pre-antibiotic era state.
Anna Dumitriu in collaboration with Dr Sarah Goldberg and Dr Roee Amit, The Amit Lab for the Decipherment of Genetic Codes, Technion. With additional support and collaboration from Dr Nicola Fawcett, Dr Heather Macklyne, Dr Rob Neely, Kevin Cole and Dr John Paul
Vintage CC41 women’s suit patched with silk grown with E.coli bacteria modified using CRISPR
Ex Voto is a collection of personal experiences of infectious diseases and antibiotic cures made by museum visitors, patients, medics and researchers in collaboration with the artist during participatory workshop sessions.
The piece references the notion of the votive offering in religious settings which symbolises a wish or gives thanks for its fulfilment.
These votives are hung on ribbons, stained or dyed with sterilised bacteria, including various species of gut microbiota, Staphylococcus aureus and genetically modified antibiotic-producing Streptomyces, as well as antimicrobial natural dyes such as madder root, and chemical dyes used in laboratory research.
Anna Dumitriu in collaboration with Dr Nicola Fawcett and Professor Maggie Smith
Aluminium, silk, sterilised bacteria, dye
These tiny needle-felted lungs are made from wool and household dust impregnated with the extracted DNA of tuberculosis (TB). The lungs show various stages of the disease and forms of treatment.
Around the turn of the 20th century, it was widely believed that household dust was one of the main transmission vectors. Sufferers would cough up sputum from their lungs and spit it out. The sputum would dry and become mixed with dust. But it seems very unlikely that the disease could be spread effectively in this manner, as the particles are far too large.
Anna Dumitriu in collaboration with Kevin Cole and Dr John Paul, Modernising Medical Microbiology
Needle-felted wool and dust with sterilised extracted DNA of tuberculosis
This 1960-style dress is impregnated with Staphylococcus aureus bacteria and video mapped with raw visual data from the process of whole genome sequencing the strain of the organism that lives on the artist’s own body. The processed and assembled 2.8 million bases of DNA that make up the genome of the bacteria is projected in a halo around the dress. Gaps in the data represent missing or unreadable sections of the genome.
The artist sequenced the bacteria as a starting point to investigate how this disruptive technology operates in both a practical and cultural context, set against a backdrop of privacy concerns, commodification of data, the threat of new pandemics, and the lack of new antibiotic treatments.
The dress is stained and patterned with the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria from the artist’s own body, as well as drug-resistant strains of MRSA and VRSA grown on dye-containing media, with natural and clinical antimicrobials.
Anna Dumitriu in collaboration with Alex May, Dr Rosie Sedgwick, and Dr James Price, Kevin Cole and Dr John Paul, Modernising Medical Microbiology
Cotton calico, sterilised bacteria, antibiotic and antimicrobial substances with video mapping of whole genome sequencing data
Anna Dumitriu created “The Hunt for New Antimicrobials” series, of which ‘Stress’ is one part, to explore what solutions there might be to the issue of antibiotic resistance and how the search for antibiotics has changed since the original work on penicillin in the 1930s and 1940s. The artist learned to edit the antibiotic pathways of bacteria using the viruses that infect them, known as bacteriophages, and how that might help us create new drugs. Works here include genetically modified Streptomyces species and patterns painted with viruses.
These silk patches above were grown with Streptomyces coelicolor bacteria and forgotten in the incubator at the lab for several weeks. During that time the bacteria became stressed and naturally produced both the red antibiotic and the blue antibiotic pigments.
“The Hunt for New Antimicrobials”; framed work 3/6
Anna Dumitriu in collaboration with Professor Maggie Smith and Dr Nicholas Read, University of York
Silk, sterilised wild type and genetically modified Streptomyces bacteria, wood, card, and glass