Monday, November 12th, 2018 pm30 12:10pm

This Guy Made an Origin of Species Cover With Bacteria—Even the ‘Paper’

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Bacteria, by and large, aren’t nearly as scary as the reputation they sometimes carry. In fact, sometimes they’re downright beautiful, says bacteriologist Simon Park. Park, a professor at the University of Surrey in the UK, has been collecting bacteria for the better part of a decade. His collection, called C-Mould, is very specific in its purpose: Nearly all of the 36 species are used for art projects.

For his most recent bioart project, Park created what he claims is the first book made entirely from bacteria. Pages. Ink. All of it. Granted, Park’s book—a recreation of Charles Darwin’s On theOrigin of Species—is not a one-for-one reprint of the famed naturalist’s seminal text. It’s more like a title page, with a few blank pages that Park intends to fill in later. Still, it’s impressive.

Park created the pages, which are about half the size of an iPad mini, by using a bacteria called Gluconacetobacter xylinus—a microbe that produces cellulose identical in structure to the plant-derived version found in cotton and paper. The bacteria grows as a gel, which Park lets accumulate to a thickness of about two centimeters. He then dries it out. When the moisture evaporates, a thin cellulose film, about the thickness of a piece of paper, remains. But the resulting paper doesn’t look like paper. Instead, it resembles a cross between tanned human skin and rock candy. It’s brown, and slightly fragile. If you were to bend it enough, it’d probably crack. All this to say, bacterial paper is not the same as the bleach-treated variety you have in your printer.