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Published: 16 June 2016

The book made from bacteria

Surrey’s Dr Simon Park has become the first scientist to make a cover of a book completely out of bacteria.

Simon, a senior lecturer in molecular biology, took Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species and refashioned in it a way the evolutionary biologist could never have dreamt of.

He said: “Origin of Species was a play on the fact that bacteria, or bacteria-like organisms, are the origin of the species. Without them we wouldn’t have the species we’re familiar with today.”

Simon created the pages by using a bacteria called Gluconacetobacter xylinus—a microbe that produces cellulose, the substance that makes up most of a plant's cell walls and is used to produce paper and cotton. It took Simon a week to grow a thick (1-to-2 centimetre) jelly-like wet bacterial mat and two days to dry and remove the water, and to make the paper-like material.

He then used a collection of coloured bacteria to illustrate the cover. Simon had plenty to choose from – he is curator of C-MOULD, one of the world's largest collection of microorganisms for artistic use.

“I have a collection of bacteria I have collected over the last 10 years, with unusual or interesting properties – for example I’ve a whole palette of different-coloured bacteria. Most are cream coloured, but occasionally you find brilliantly coloured ones.”

Simon unveiled his book at this year’s International Science Festival. Attendees were intrigued by the book cover:  “You can see the cogs ticking over as they try to match the concept of the book with bacteria. Most of the time, people only think about bacteria when they’re causing diseases, not from a creative point of view.”

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