Grant Burgess, The DOVE Marine Laboratory

I had a tour, some lessons and an intense conversation with Grant Burgess, Director of the DOVE Marine Laboratory in Cullercoats, Northumberland (it’s part of Newcastle University’s Marine Biology Dept).

Dr. Grant Burgess
Dr. Grant Burgess

This is one of the few labs that has a steady supply of seawater pumped through the building’s plumbing. It flows through the lab taps!

DOVE Marine Laboratory
DOVE Marine Laboratory

I learned a bit about Anton Dohrn, who built the first Marine Station in Naples in the 1870’s, and actually implemented an art-science interface, by hosting concerts, and art events within the lab… Grant came to my talk at ISIS, and is clearly very open to the interplay of hard science, and the evocations that art can muster,  measures to teach and incite…

Grant’s lab foci include: “Novel bioactive compounds from marine bacteria, chemical defense in marine microbes, antifouling compounds from marine bacteria, microbiology at high pressure, sponge microbiology, biofilms, and more recently marine fermentation and bioprocessing.”

In lay terms, he explained that the lab’s working on turning algae/fungus into an OMEGA 6 source, since we no longer have fish as a viable source for the nutrients; and using algae as an energy fuels. The lab also researches the medicinal potential of sea slugs, and ways to zap ballast water of invasive species. Among other things. I got a crash course in quorum sensing– the ways bacteria make language out of molecular signaling, in order to act in concert when a quorum is reached.

The lab’s growing algae on the roof ( even in winter in the limited sunlight) in these cheerful, workaday aquaria:

Roof of DOVE
Roof of DOVE

We took a tour through the remains of the Victorian era public aquarium, where we met a very curious plaice, who came right up to the window, very self-possessed and clearly eager. Am I anthropomorphizing? Is it useful? Can one attribute motivation without human descriptors, and  attribute  thoughtful agency to non-human animals?

We also had some very speculative conversations on invasive species – the embedded racism and selective designations inherent in the condemnatory term, and how the line is in slippery flux between “introduced” and “invasive.”

I like these hybrid spaces – of thinking, working, making.

Front doors of DOVE
Front doors of DOVE

Charismatic megafauna: you can’t live without ’em.

“Giant pandas are ‘charismatic megafauna,’ a category that includes whales and other sea mammals, salmon and other inspirational fish, eagles and other flashy raptors. In each instance, the creatures help spotlight the hundreds of humbler but equally endangered species: the black-spored quillwort, the longhorn fairy shrimp.”
—”Birth and Rebirth,” USA Today, August 23, 1999

Usually thought of as poster children for environmental issues, they’re often super cuddly or super scary. Or both (like polar bears).

I’d add to this list:
Jellyfish (alien death squad)
Squirrels (mischievous urban representatives)

But people look at me funny if I start geeking out about plankton or mycelial networks (although the latter can get pretty trippy). If we could spin them right, they’d be seen for the superheroes they are.

More on the Uncharismatic Poster Children:

Mycelium Running:
How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World

and Paul Stamets’ talk from TED:

(Above: Mycologist Paul Stamets lists 6 ways the mycelium fungus can help save the universe: cleaning polluted soil, making insecticides, treating smallpox and even flu … LINK to Stamets’ web site