Microbe Mouth


14th June until 6th September 2017

Open event 7th July: Ceramic tooth workshop 2-5pm & discussion 5-6pm. In the afternoon paint your own ceramic tooth in a unique way to be incorporated into the exhibit. In the evening there will be a short talk giving you the opportunity to talk with the researchers involved in the project. All welcome, refreshments available, FREE.


On display in Microbe Mouth will be a tooth created in the lab from special tooth enamel (hydroxyapatite) producing bacteria Serratia NCIMB 40259. The incredible microbe was originally isolated from soil around mining facilities and can catalyse the formation of hydroxyapatite1, the mineral that makes up teeth and bones. To do this Serratia NCIMB 40259 was cultured inside a bioreactor on a foam scaffold shaped in the form of a tooth. The resulting biofilm covered form was placed in a liquid solution of calcium and phosphate salts and the bacteria converted this into the insoluble mineral by an enzyme-driven mechanism. The foam was removed in a furnace leaving only a fragile mineral structure which was coated in glazes containing bacteria commonly associated with tooth decay (caries, Streptococcal species) and gum disease (periodontitis, Porphyromonas gingivalis).

A necklace is also shown alongside the lab grown tooth. This was created through a series of workshops where participants worked with us to glaze their own porcelain teeth in a unique way – using glazes derived from various bacterial species which have coloured the teeth. Bacteria used will include Porphyromonas gingivalis (known to give you gum disease!) that introduces an iron-based light brown stain to the glaze and tooth decay causing Streptococcus species that introduce a yellow stain. The bacteria have all been sterilised prior to exhibition.

The work stems from research carried out by Rachel on the bacteria Serratia NCIMB 40259 with Prof Lynne Macaskie1-3.

  1. Thackray et al (2004) Bacterial biosynthesis of a calcium phosphate bone-substitute material. J Mater Sci Mater Med. 15:403-6.
  1. Macaskie LE, et al (2005) A novel non line of-sight method for coating HA onto the surfaces of support materials by biomineralization. Biotechnol 118:187–200
  2. Sammons, R. et al (2013) Bacterially derived nanomaterials and enzyme-driven lipid-associated metallic particle catalyst formation In: Iglič, A. & Kulkarni, C. V., eds. Advances in planar lipid bilayers and liposomes, 237-261. Burlington: Academic Press.


Melissa Grant is a biochemist and senior lecturer in the School of Dentistry, University of Birmingham. Her research focuses on defining oral health and understanding how poor oral health affects the rest of the body and immune system. She works in the broadest sense of interdisciplinarity, collaborating with clinicians, scientists and artists.

Rachel Sammons is a microbiologist, senior lecturer in biomaterials and director of the Biomedical Materials Science programme at the University of Birmingham, School of Dentistry. She has a long-standing interest in biomineralisation in heath and disease but her current research focuses on the development of materials to resist bacterial attachment and biofilm formation in order to combat infections associated with biomaterials.

Anna Dumitriu is a British artist whose work fuses craft, technology and bioscience to explore our relationship to the microbial world, biomedicine and technology. She is artist-in-residence on the Modernising Medical Microbiology Project at the University of Oxford, at the Department of Computer Science at The University of Hertfordshire, and at the Wellcome Trust Brighton and Sussex Centre for Global Health Research. Her work has been exhibited at international venues including the V&A Museum, the Picasso Museum Barcelona, The Science Gallery Dublin, ZKM, The Beall Center for Art & Technology, LA, Eden Project, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei.