[soliloquy slug=”biota”]


“There are more microbial species on Earth than stars in the galaxy. Thanks to DNA sequencing we are now able to “see” them and understand how they too are in peril. “

BIOTA is a data visualization installation that explores biodiversity loss through the micro-macro lens of new sensing technologies. From DNA sequencing to satellite remote sensing to micro algae production, the artist investigates data and imagery from these new methods of scientific exploration. In collaboration with local environmental organizations, biology labs and field scientists, the team used DNA sequencing technologies to analyze DNA strands of one water sample collected from the Rio Fernando which feeds into the Rio Grande. The DNA results showed 700 microbial species and their abundance level. According to an article in NATURE magazine, “While invisible to the naked eye and thus somewhat intangible7, the abundance (~1030 total bacteria and archaea)8 and diversity of microorganisms underlie their role in maintaining a healthy global ecosystem: simply put, the microbial world constitutes the life support system of the biosphere.”

This bio-data was used to generate an algorithmic pattern of growing circles visualizing the diversity of species collected from the Rio Fernando and their relational abundance.  The algorithm is projected into the liquid bubbles which contain live freshwater microalgae to highlight their role as a bio tool for climate change mitigation and restoring biodiversity in water. Microalgae produces approximately half of the atmospheric oxygen while using carbon dioxide to grow photoautotrophically.

The BIOTA project has also led to ongoing collaborations with scientists and citizen science projects at the Rio Fernando Park such as a new partnership with the Museum of Southwestern Biology:

“This is an exciting project for the Museum of Southwestern Biology because it will be the first time we will be able to archive water samples to monitor bacterial biodiversity using metabarcoding techniques. This will expand on the mission of the museum to document and archive the biodiversity of animal and plant communities in the Southwest and across the globe.  This sampling is critical because very little is known about the bacterial biodiversity of river systems, especially threatened dryland waterways in the Southwest. These  water samples, DNA extractions and sequencing results, collected as repeat samples over time, will be archived at the Museum of Southwestern Biology Division of Genomic Resources to  provide initial baseline data and museum samples to support future research on river systems threatened by climate change, overuse and loss of biodiversity on a global scale.” Mariel Campbell, Division of Genomic Resources, Museum of Southwestern Biology, UNM

BIOTA hopes to instill empathy and action to protect the invisible world of microbial species in peril while raising awareness to the fascinating new science and technology that allows us to finally ’see’ them and understand the important role they play.

Medium: projection, copolyester, fiber optics, galvanized metal, microalgae

Photo credits: Lance Gerber

Collaborating Team:

Marcel Schwittlick, artist/coder for data visualization
Mariel Campbell, Museum of Southwestern Biology
Mr. DNA, DNA Sequencing
Elhanan Borenstein, Associate Professor of Genome Sciences, University of Washington
Luke Spangenburg, Santa Fe Community College Trade and Technology Center, algae samples
Shannon Romeling/Amigos Bravos, advisor
Rich Schrader/River Source, advisor
Katie Bryant, Upward Bound Math & Science, advisor
Taos Land Trust staff, advisors
Screen Solutions International, Sponsor/advisor
Cisneros Sheet Metal, Sponsor/advisor 
Glasco, Sponsor/advisor
Viola Arduini, Advisor
CERN Data Center, copolyester fiber optic form development, Fluidic Data