How would the world change if we could detect cancer with bacteria and art?
MIT scientist Tal Danino and artist Vik Muniz show us the amazing possibilities.

Image: Liver Cell Pattern 1.  The study of cancer relies on the understanding of how healthy and diseased cells function in our bodies. Here, healthy liver cells (primary rat hepatocytes) and cancer cells (below HeLa cells, cervical cancer) are transformed into images using micropatterning techniques. To make these images, a silicon stamp of the image was created, using photo-lithography, in a clean room facility at MIT. This stamp was placed on a dish coated with collagen, a molecule known to stick to cells, and plasma was used to ablate the collagen except where the stamp is not present. Cells were then added to the culture dish and washed several times, resulting in an image with an approximate size of one centimeter and features on the order of the size of cells (10 um) that are imaged on a microscope in purple and gold tones.

Source: Tal Danino

Image: HeLa cell Pattern art mandala in blue tones

Source: Tal Danino

“What cool patterns!”, You’re thinking… but take a closer look.

Image: A zoomed-in image of the above Liver Cell Pattern 1. Background is purple, cells are yellow.

Source: Tal Danino

The patterns are actually made of cell colonies!

Although the purple print leads you to believe otherwise, the cells are healthy liver cells from rats!

This science and art collaboration project is entitled Colonies and is the work of scientist Tal Danino and artist Vik Muniz. Danino describes the work on his own site as:

…a project that visually communicates many of the scientific research directions I have worked on.  Parallel to telling the scientific story line, the Colonies series is also an exploration of the relationship that scientists have with the ‘living’ materials we work with.  The relationship we have with cancer is complex in that in the everyday world, cancer is one of the worst words we can think of.  It is a word we automatically associate with death and a topic that we avoid talking about.  Many of us have a strong emotional reaction to cancer, knowing someone who has or had cancer. But as scientists we find cancer cells to be fascinating, complex, and dynamic organisms (see movie below) and when we work with cancer cells, we want our cancer cells to be healthy and ‘happy’ for our experiments to work. 1

Want more information about the background behind this project? Here is a video put out by a channel we love, The Creator’s Project, about Colonies…

Watching this, I thought to myself, “Wow, there are so many amazing things that happen when science and art are combined!” It makes me wonder: what else is out there? Don’t worry, when I find the best of the best I will make sure I get it here for you!

“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people” -Victor Borge
Liesl can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV

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  1. Danino, Tal. “Colonies.” Tal Danino. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Oct. 2015. <>.
  2. “Turning Living Cells Into Art | Vik Muniz and Tal Danino’s “Colonies””YouTube. The Creators Project, 19 Aug. 2014. Web. 3 Oct. 2015. <>.

Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

CEO of Ever Widening Circles, Founder of EWCed

Since 2015, Liesl has been a writer, editor, and is now the CEO at Ever Widening Circles. She is a life-long camera-toting traveler, a global story seeker, and an aspiring—but more often root-tripping—outdoor enthusiast. She can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV