LIFE FINDS ITS WAY
“Bioethics. Art and morality. Bioart. Validation.” © Nora S. Vaage
An first experiment “BL00D AGAR” was born on 04/29/2020.
When I started working on it, I did not know and did not suspect that it is very dangerous.
When I found out how dangerous it is – I destroyed the experiment.
I want to tell and explain what exactly happened – perhaps this information may be useful to others.
“BL00D AGAR” details:
Recipe: H2O 500 mL, Agar 10 g, Blood (my own)
Container: Petri dish
Link to post № 1
Link to post № 2
*Reproduced with permission of Erich Berger and Melissa Grant.
EB: Max has some interest in blood agar and I was wondering if you could point them into a direction to learn about it and about possible risks.
MG: Max, with the blood agar what are you wanting to grow?
M: In general I wanted to learn to work with agar (I wanted to grow fungus). It was my first experience with agar (in general I use my blood in my art – a lot). So I made “blood agar” and published it in bioart society. Erich wrote to me: this is very dangerous! I destroyed my experiment but I want to know/learn – how to do it in a safe way. I have researched the topic a bit and I know that one of the options is to work with an antibiotic.
MG: Ok so there are a couple of things and maybe EB has mentioned these already. First, working with your own body products like blood carries the risk that if somehow you change the cells and they get back into your body they may be able to cause serious problems such as cancer as the body recognised them as self but actually they are not. Secondly growing microbes in general poses a risk as you are increasing the number of them which could be a problem from the body just by number but also by using blood as a substrate there is the possibility of growing pathogens that need blood to survive. More to come… In the lab we are not allowed to work with our own blood due to the risk I mentioned above: we work with horse blood to make our blood agar (well actually we buy in premade plates these days more often than not). When we grow the microbes we work within a safety cabinet so that anything coming off the agar cannot be breathed in. I don’t regularly work with fungi but if they are sporulating kind then this is really important – a mask is the minimum needed but a screen between you and the dish would be better. Plus I highly recommend not doing it in your kitchen (you may not be doing this anyway but I thought it would be good to add)… So if you still want to grow microbes… antibiotics may not be the answer. We often use them to be able to exclude unwanted microbes and select for just one type that is resistant to the antibiotic used. This prevents contamination of the experiment. However it poses a different problem that now there is a microbe resistant to a particular antibiotic which might make it more persistent in the environment – so disposal has to be through some kind of high temperature sterilisation (eg using an autoclave or long and hot steam in a pressure cooker). So the use of antibiotics doesn’t make the growing any safer for you. It’s just a tool to get particular microbes…
MG: Is there a possibility that you can collaborate with a lab to work in a safer environment and may be using donor blood? And lastly where do the microbes come from?
M: Today I used ethanol for disposal – this is what I had.
“And maybe use donor blood?” – no.
“And lastly where do the microbes come from?” – from everywhere – from life.
MG: Maybe I can be a little more specific about where the microbes come from – did you leave the agar dish open and allow anything to land on it or did you use a swab or similar to wipe your body and put that onto the agar?
M: “Did you leave the agar dish open and allow anything to land on it or did you use a swab or similar to wipe your body and put that onto the agar?” – NO – I work very carefully – also I work with my blood for many years – so I know to be careful.
MG: Sorry didn’t mean to imply you weren’t working carefully. I leave dishes open (called settle plates) to collect microbes from the environment and working in the lab we sometimes swab from saliva or the skin. I was just interested in your source.
M: Is my blood agar still dangerous after pressure cooking?
MG: If you heat the blood agar in a pressure cooker to sterilise it (30 min/121 degrees) then the human cells will also be dead and that would be OK to use from the blood risk point of view.