CIIE micro-residency

Our four micro-residency artists have embarked on a three month collaborative journey with scientists from the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Immunity, Infection and Evolution and you can keep up to date with their progress here. The artists will be preparing to exhibit their work to the general public within a group exhibition in Summerhall as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival and we’ll be providing regular insights into their journey on this page.

CLICK HERE for more details on our participating artists.

Wriggly Things

Here filmmaker Anne Milne gives us an update on her CIIE findings. After spending a lot of time at the Ashworth labs over the last month Anne has been busy filming and experimenting. For her research Anne has been looking at ‘wriggly things’ from tiny threadlike parasitic worms to the dangerous parasites found in cotton rats. She tells us how her findings have inspired her individual project…

Monday, 9 March 2015
By Anne Milne

I had a meeting with Judi Allen, a Principal Investigator whose work is primarily studying the interaction between parasitic worms and their hosts. Among her research projects, she is working with a model system of Litomosoides sigmodontis, a parasite found in cotton rats in the wild. But the model system can also be used to develop vaccines against filarial* infections in humans, an extreme example of which is Elephantitis, a devastating illness in which the parasite does not actually kill the host, but rather causes disfigurement and a great deal of pain and distress. These parasites can live in the body up to 5-10 years, manipulating the immune system of its host. Judi arranged for me to meet up with Alison Fulton, a technician whose job it is to make sure the worms are properly looked after and basically healthy. She spends half her time in Judi’s Lab and half with Matt Taylor, whose lab also looks at immune responses to parasites.

*Filariasis (or philariasis) is a parasitic disease caused by an infection with roundworms of the Filarioidea type

Alison very kindly ‘harvested’ some worms for me to look at and film. As you can see in the video below, they look very much like thin strands of thread. If you look closely, you can see the hooked ends of the male worms. They use this hook to latch onto the females in order to mate. When they first enter the mammals, the worms are still at the larvae stage, L3, which is the infective stage of the worm. They are transmitted via a vector, the tropical rat mite.

As they grow, due to the confined nature of their host’s gut, the worms end up entangled with each other, resembling a big ball of tangled threads. I later took the worms with me down to the Little Lab where I was able to film them through the microscope. These clips will appear in the experimental film, Invasion, which will form part of my installation at Summerhall.

wormPhoto by Anne Milne
The following week, Alison invited me down to the microscope room in the basement to look at some slides. What she wanted to point out to me was the form and structure of the female worm. During what I termed the Worm Tour we watched as the microscope travelled the length of a mature female worm. I filmed it as Alison explained what was going on. The female worm is essentially a giant incubator. The length of her body, which can grow to 17 cm contains millions of eggs. The vulva, where the worms emerge is pretty much at the top end of the worm, right next to the head!

It’s great for us to see how Anne, as a filmmaker has approached the research and visual elements of the CIIE. The short video excerpt included here gives us an insight into some of the work Anne has been getting up to. Her final films will be on display along with the work of our other CIIE micro-residency artists, in the Lower Church Galleries, Summerhall from the 4th April – 22nd May. This exhibition will launch for the Edinburgh International Science Festival at 7pm, 3rd April and will be open to the public daily from 11am – 6pm.

Surfaces, Edges and Boundaries

By Emily Grieve

Luke Phyogeny[1]Photo by Jo Hodges & Robbie Coleman

Over the last few weeks artists Jo Hodges and Robbie Coleman have been exploring a wide range of avenues and are gradually beginning to narrow down their points of interest. From exploring parasites in the ‘real world’ to viruses and virulence.

The Artists began by meeting with Luke McNally discussing bacterial predictions and the different tools bacteria use to create a niche to infect new hosts.”Some produce antibiotics that kill other bacteria, some have internal viruses as weapons, releasing them when they are in a host and wiping the commensal bacteria out…”
-Luke McNall

“Luke talked about his work looking at predicting risk factors for the bacteria that may evolve more niche constructing traits, allowing then to jump into humans from other host species.’’ –Jo Hodges and Robbie Coleman

Next Amy Panderson and her group talked of their research of co-infection by multiple parasites and the interaction between parasites….”We were interested in this approach, as studying populations in this context, seemed to us, important in recognizing the complexities of real world interactions and relationships.’’-Jo Hodges and Robbie Coleman

Liam Brierley who works in both Amy Pederson and Mark Woolhouse’s group met with Jo and Robbie at a later stage and gave the artists an understanding of how host ranges affect virus dynamics and what you can predict from knowing what type of animals can act as hosts. “We were interested in talking to Liam as he is using already existing data in his work… Since the advent of computers powerful enough to process large amounts of data, new ways carrying out research have opened up using computers as research tools and we were interested to explore the variety of research at the CIIE’”-Jo Hodges and Robbie Coleman

The artists went on to meet with Sujai who works within Mark Blaxter’s group. He is a bioinfomatician working with data from the genome sequencing* process to make it accessible and usable by biologists and other researchers. He is currently working on creating a genomic resource for biologists on butterflies and moths. “Sujai was fantastic at explaining the concepts behind genome sequencing in a way that was easily understandable. He explained that many biologists study one or a few genes however Sujai and others in the Blaxter Lab are working with the whole DNA of an organism. The genome is the DNA in its entirety ie all the chromosomes… It was interesting to find out that much of the work at the centre is published online and is available to everyone.’’ -Jo Hodges & Robbie Coleman
Staphylococcus_aureus_bacteria[1]Photo by Jo Hodges & Robbie Coleman

*genome sequencing is a laboratory process that determines the complete DNA sequence of an organism’s genome at a single time.

Jo and Robbie also had a meeting with Bram van Bunnik from the Epidemiology Research Group. Bram works specifically with network modelling and explained to the artists his study of the spread of infection within hospital acquired infection especially his work on the spread of MRSA.

The Artists have continued to look at this a little deeper bringing the very human and social side of the CIIE into their artistic research especially looking at how hospitals create the perfect environment for pathogens to spread. ”We also read that MRSA can survive on polyester for up to 56 days – the very thing hospital screens are made of!!’’-Jo Hodges and Robbie Coleman

The physical environment of the hospital has become a particular point of interest for artists Jo and Robbie. Gaining an understanding of how diseases spread and an understanding of the boundaries between species being more permeable than you may think. “The gaps and spaces and surfaces between us and within us are not empty, but are teeming with life’’-Jo Hodges and Robbie Coleman

The last few weeks have been a journey of discovery for Jo and Robbie and there is now only one month left until their work and the work from Mark Doyle and Anne Milne will showcase at the Lower Church Galleries, Summerhall. Come along to see how these surfaces, edges, boundaries and bacterial predictions manifest themselves in the final work.

Baby cells and casts of wells

7th February 2015
Intro by Emily Grieve

Here artist Mark Doyle gives us his latest insight into the world of CIIE. From his talks with Amy Buck about ‘’baby cells’’ to analogies from Dom at the Blaxter lab, likening their work to a jigsaw puzzle. Mark has already started experimenting…

Studio cast test small[1]Photo by Mark Doyle

by Mark Doyle

Yesterday morning I was lucky enough to get an enthusiastic introduction to Amy Buck’s work looking into the function of vesicles. These “baby cells” are a relatively new area of study and could shed new light on how the cells in our body communicate by passing proteins and other molecular information from one cell to another. It’s been found that this process is common in many organisms from bacteria to humans and worryingly is thought to be a method by which many viruses invade our cells and adapt to the changing environment within our bodies.

Amy’s area of research has focussed on nematodes and this gave me a brief introduction to one of the subjects of my next meeting with Sujai, Dom and Ernest from the Blaxter Lab. I was given an insight into the work they do using powerful computers to process the data gathered in the Genomics department into usable DNA sequences. They specialise in anything “microscopic and wriggley” the nematode being just such an organism. Dom gave me an insightful analogy of their work, likening it to putting together a jigsaw puzzle, one that has millions of pieces, no corners or edges, no picture and some pieces that don’t fit!

Later in the afternoon I attended the happy hour lectures, one of which was given by Kim Prior from the Reece lab on the circadian rhythm of malaria parasites and whether they have their own biological clock or rely on that of their host to coordinate their activity.

As well as my time spent at CIIE I also managed to do a bit of experimenting in my studio this week. I made silicone moulds of well trays (donated by the Reece lab) then took plaster casts from these. They give some interesting forms, a mix of rounded organic shapes within a regimented grid structure, see above.

Into New Territory

2nd February 2015
Intro by Emily Grieve

Petra Schneider and Eleanor Silvester of the SBS Press Gang have been tracking the artist’s progress so far. Here is what they had to say along with some interesting insights from artists Mark Doyle and Anne Milne who have been busy visiting a number of labs and getting to know the scientists better.

by Petra Schneider and Eleanor Silvester

After a short time of orientation, the artists-in-residence are getting started with their individual projects. In the past weeks they have attended seminars, visited labs and met many scientists, which enabled them to get a broad view of the work done in CIIE.

Anne Milne, who is a film maker, tells us the latest news. Anne was excited about the variety of work done in CIIE, the processes involved in gathering data and how data – often enormous lists of numbers – are visualised.

01tunnel[1]Photo by Anne Milne

‘’We had a very interesting conversation with Prof Manfred Auer about his research, his previous life in industry, and he showed us around his lab which was all brought over with him from Austria, including the special tables. It really did feel like the future.”- Anne Milne

Anne visited various labs, observing the work done in CIIE, ranging from highly modern genomics to number-crunching, and science as it was traditionally displayed to the world: the Frankenstein image of bubbling green liquids (algae cultures) and monstrous beasties (have a look at some insects under the microscope!) – completed by the scientists’ thrill of discovering something that they did not know before.

‘’Later on Friday, I went wandering through the lab with my special lens to try and capture some interesting footage. I came upon Tom Godfrey, a young PhD ecologist who studies bees. Quite a change from mosquitoes! And he has many cases full of samples he has collected from a special flowering meadow down south.”- Anne Milne

Whereas Anne has worked with scientists before, the scientific world of CIIE with its fundamental and applied research, its live organisms and wet-labs is a new and exciting world. Anne has now spent some time exploring the scientific world, started gathering some film material to help her form ideas for her work, and she will start setting up her studio in the next few days. The next stage is to arrange to interview the scientists working in CIIE.

Micoscope drawing
Photo by Mark Doyle

Mixed media artist Mark Doyle has also been immersing himself in the research done in CIIE. He has become particularly interested in the centre’s malaria research. He has observed live parasites with Sarah Reece’s group and looked at mosquitoes with Sam Rund. He is fascinated by the complex life cycle of the parasite, as well as the historic aspect of the disease – malaria parasites have been infecting humans for a long, long time!

‘’with the help of Sam Rund I got the chance to draw some live Anopheles mosquitoes down a microscope. This was a rare opportunity to practice the type of representational drawing that many scientists used to document their observations of the microscopic world prior to the invention of the camera.’’- Mark Doyle

Full of inspiration from his lab visits, Mark will now start to read more about malaria in preparation for starting his new art work.

More from CIIE micro-residency

by Emily Grieve
26th January 2015

Once again artists and scientist minds met as our CIIE micro-residency continued last week. Artists explored more of the Ashworth laboratory and the innovative research carried out there. The residency continues to show how skilled the scientists are at explaining highly complex scientific research in a way which can be understandable for the artists, creating many points of access to their research. Over the week Artists spent time at the CIIE Winter Symposium, within the Reece Lab and on a tour of SynthsSys with Manfred Auer to view the revolutionary compound analysis machines there. The innovative scientific technology on offer at the CIIE has been highly impressive and gives us a new appreciation of how the advancement in these technologies has impacted on ever expanding scientific research.

Here Kasia Kokowska (Manager of CIIE) gives us a more in-depth insight into the residency, with some feedback from Mark Doyle on his tour of the Reece lab.

Wednesday: Artists attended a symposium organised by Professors Peter Simmonds and Mark Woolhouse. CIIE Symposia are designed to present a global perspective on current topics researched in CIIE and take place on a regular basis. The Winter Symposium saw a number of speakers talking about emerging infectious diseases including more topical diseases: Ebola, MRSA, Flu and less heard of ones: Klebsiella or Chikungunya. The effects of antibiotic resistance in shaping emerging pathogens was also discussed during the symposium.

World of pain small[1]Photo by Mark Doyle

Thursday: Artists visited Sarah Reece of Reece Lab. Sarah is one of the younger professors in CIIE and was been awarded chair in evolutionary parasitology last summer. Starting with a discussion about Sarah’s research on evolution and ecology of malaria parasites. We could learn how clever parasites are in the long-term planning of their survival always keeping one step ahead of us. The discussion then moved on to less scientific topics such as the role of women in science.

In the afternoon artists visited Manfred Auer in SynthSys. Manfred is CIIE translational facilitator and a professor in translational biology. Manfred’s background is in chemistry and physics. Manfred showed us his revolutionary machine that does compound analysis on a very small level, using very tiny beads. He also gave us insight into working for pharmaceutical companies and also used to work for Novartis.

Friday: Artists visited Reece Lab in the morning and were given a presentation by Aidan O’Donnell the lab’s manager. Later artists were invited for a chat by Emma Hodcroft, Manon Ragonnet, Gonzalo Yebra in Andrew Leigh Brown HIV and Flu research group to talk about their research into HIV.
Artist Mark Doyle tells us more of the tour of the Reece Lab and the fascinating research on the reproductive cycle of the Malaria parasite:
‘’We even managed to see this process live under the microscope, something that would usually take place in the abdomen of a mosquito. We then had the chance to talk with researchers from the Andrew Leigh Brown HIV and Flu research group about their work on HIV and its transmission’’

The CIIE continues to draw new similarities and comparisons between creativity within both art and science. We are excited to discover what is to come in the next stage of micro-residency. Keep checking back here for more updates.

Reece Lab 3 small[1]Photo by Mark Doyle

CIIE micro-residency continues

16th January 2015
by Emily Grieve

Our CIIE micro-residency artists regrouped for an afternoon of inspiring demonstrations, talks and tours from CIIE scientists.

Inside the room, affectionately known by scientists as ‘the fishbowl’, is where artists will be based throughout the residency. Our first talk took place here with CIIE Fellow Melissa Ward studying antibiotic resistance, epidemiology and genetics of bacteria. Melissa explained some of her work on the spread of E.coli in Nairobi, working closely with the International Livestock Research Institute of Nairobi. The region is of specific interest to Melissa with the massive spectrum of different housing types effecting spread of bacteria. It was fascinating to discover how local people are trained to collect data and transport samples by motorbike, to weave in and out of the busy Nairobi traffic to keep samples fresh.

CIIE_continues11 CIIE_continues03

This was followed by a demonstration from CIIE Fellow Laura Politt, who’s research focusses on understanding the interactions between parasites. Looking at the mosquitoes under the microscope gave us all a new appreciation for these tiny creatures. We all agreed we would now think twice before swotting one of these intricately insects. Laura’s demonstration also included a fascinating mosquito dissection, giving us an understanding of how a dissection on this minute scale can be carried out.

Next, artists were interviewed for Biopod, the podcast for the school of biological sciences. PhD student Didi conducted some engaging interviews with the artists and they discussed the methodologies they might use in bringing science to wider audiences, highlighting interesting crossovers in their practices.

After being interviewed, artists were given a tour of the Edinburgh Genomics Facilities and Natural History Collection by Prof. Mark Blaxter, who researches genomics of non-vertebrate animals including parasites and pathogens. Mark talked us through the sequencing systems offered by the Edinburgh Genomics Facilities, which has the largest sequencing capacity in the UK. These systems can produce raw data from billions of DNA and RNA molecules. Mark presented us with some interesting points on the advancement of scientific technology for scientists and explained how these technologies can produce data that can be applied to many different fields. Mark ended his tour with us in the Natural History Collection of the University of Edinburgh. The eclectic collection of objects and specimens from over 300 years was extremely impressive. The ghostly appearance of the perfectly preserved creatures in formaldehyde sparked immediate curiosity from us all.


Artist talks then followed. This gave artists the opportunity to show scientists what they do. It was great for scientists to get a chance to see artists work get an insight into the range of their individual practises. Each artist introduced themselves and their practice and presented examples of their work. This created a real sense enthusiasm from both the scientists and the artists and discussions continued over drinks in the Darwin Dance Hall.

As the residency continues the similarities between artists and scientists becomes more and more apparent, with creativity being a key element of both the scientist and the artist.

CIIE micro-residency begins

12th January, 2015
by Emily Grieve


The ASCUS CIIE micro-residency began with coffee in the Darwin Dance Hall, this is the social space within the Ashworth Building where packed lunches are eaten, coffee is consumed and science is discussed. This gave the artists the perfect setting to introduce themselves to one another and share ideas, and the immediate enthusiasm of the artists instantly gave the morning an exciting feel. This was swiftly followed with a tour of Ashworth Laboratories, giving our four selected artists the chance to become more familiar with the building and meet the people which they will be working closely with over the coming months. Click here for more information on selected artists. Meeting with the scientists and understanding the work they are doing in the laboratories is a key starting point to the micro-residency.


CIIE Fellow Sam Rund researches the Biological rhythms, functions and interactions in insect-transmitted diseases. Sam gave the artists a fascinating introduction and talk about his work with mosquitoes. Sam is currently investigating the physiology and behaviour of the mosquito. As we step into the area where the mosquitoes are kept we were hit by the warmth inside the room, Sam explains how the room needs to maintain this temperature of 26 degrees. He went on to show us the baby mosquitoes up close. It was amazing to see these delicate creatures in so much detail, stimulating a number of questions from the artists on Sam’s research in this area.

The second demonstration of the day took place with Phil Wilson, a research assistant working for Little Lab who’s research focuses on evolutionary biology of infectious organisms. As we enter the lab the bubbling green algae attracted all of our attention. Phil gave the artists a thought-provoking demonstration on the work Little Lab does, including the study of immune responses and the genes that cause susceptibility.

CIIE_begins06 CIIE_begins07

CIIE Fellow Roman Popat research concentrates on the plasticity in bacteria and the evolution of virulence in opportunistic pathogens. Roman works for the Brown Group studying the social lives of bacteria and the implications of this for disease. Roman also gave the artists an inspiring insight into his work on bacterial communications. This posed as a potentially intriguing area for the artist to explore more.

Next on the agenda Luke McNally talked the artists through his research on Evolution of mechanisms for the regulation of individual and collective behaviour. Luke also works for the Brown Group, and he explained how his research aims to expand the understanding of evolution-proof anti-virulence treatments. Luke presented his complex research in a clear and visual way for us to follow, presenting some fascinating aspects for potential collaboration with the artists.

To end the day Kim Prior, a grad student working for Reece lab , talked to us about red blood cells infected with malaria parasites. Kim explained to us how these parasites cause some of the most harmful infectious diseases. Looking through the microscope at cells infected by malaria gave us a sense of how powerful these tiny malaria parasites could potentially be.

The innovative research that is being displayed by scientists at Ashworth Laboratories will give our selected residency artists a broad scope to work with. On their first day they had a chance to think about initial plans towards the areas in which they found the most inspiring. We are excited to see what will come of these Art and Science collaborations.

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