Slime Cities

There is a resource associated with this exhbition.

15th January -16th April 2018

Slime cities brings together artist in residence Elin Thomas and scientist Sarah Kuehne with artist and scientist Sabine Tötemeyer and classes 3E and 3F from Baskerville School to explore and celebrate bacteria and biofilms.

Artist Elin Thomas has joined the school of Dentistry for a residency, working with Drs Sarah Kuehne (microbiologist) and Melissa Grant (biochemist), to see sampling, growth and classification of oral bacteria (using plating techniques and microscopy). She then translated the microbiology of our mouth into artwork which is now housed in the foyer of the Birmingham Dental Hospital. On display are recreated microbes embroidered on felted ‘agar’plates and a magnified view of a petri dish (plastic dish used to grow microbes in), displayed using embroidery on organza.


Alongside this work, microbiologist and artist Sabine Tötemeyer (from the University of Nottingham) has knitted oral microbes, which are displayed on a tooth (made from papier mache). We all have many bacteria in our mouth, which normally live in harmony with us, in an equilibrium. This balance can get disturbed, for example if we do not brush regularly, and harmful bacteria can multiply. The healthy and the diseased sites are on display.


The 3rd exhibition plinth harbours microbes created by the pupils of classes 3E and 3F of Baskerville School. These microbes are made from felt and were created under the guidance of Sarah Kuehne and Melissa Grant accompanied by a first introduction to the wonders of microbiology.

Bacteria do not often live alone. They form communities, which we call biofilms. These consist of bacteria and some kind of slime, which keeps them together. These biofilms can cause problems, as it is harder to get rid of them. The slime can protect the bacteria and makes them more resistant, for example against antibiotics.


The work presented here stems from research carried out by Dr Sarah Kuehne and her team in the School of Dentistry.

Sarah’s research focuses on the interactions between bacteria in biofilms, how they communicate with each other, and also how they communicate with the host (us humans). She is particularly interested in defining the shift from a healthy biofilm to a diseased one, as can be observed in the mouth when gingivitis or periodontitis develop. To understand how bacteria form these biofilm structures is crucial to be able to counteract them. Currently we are developing models to be able to study relevant bacterial biofilms in our laboratory and developing new methods to disrupt them.


  1. Ðapa T, Leuzzi R, Ng YK, Baban ST, Kuehne SA, Scarselli M, Minton NP & Serruto D. Multiple factors modulate biofilm formation by the anaerobic pathogen Clostridium difficile. J Bacteriol 2013; 195(3):545-55.


  1. Vyas N, Sammons RL, Addison O, Dehghani H, Walmsley AD. A quantitative method to measure biofilm removal efficiency from complex biomaterial surfaces using SEM and image analysis. Sci Rep. 2016; 7;6:32694.


We will host open workshops every lunchtime 12-2pm from 12-16th March 2018 with a chance to talk with the researchers involved in the project. Join Sarah to make a microbe using felt to add into the exhibition. All welcome, FREE.

People involved:

Dr Sarah Kuehne is a microbiologist, working in the School of Dentistry and the Institute of Microbiology and Infection at the University of Birmingham. She is interested in the human microbiome (bacteria that live on and in and with us) in health and disease.

Dr Melissa Grant is a biochemist, working in the School of Dentistry and the Institute of Microbiology and Infection at the University of Birmingham. She is interested in proteomics, metabolomics and host-pathogen interactions (the analysis of molecules produced by the bacteria and how these might interact with or influence us). She is also the lead on the Open Wide exhibition.

Elin Thomas is an artist, based in Bristol and specialises in the use of textiles and stitch to explore nature, particularly microbes, insects and lichen. She has exhibited internationally (The Museum of Craft, San Francisco, USA). Her work has been featured through the scientific (Scientific American) and main stream press (The New York Times and Observer).

Dr Sabine Tötemeyer is a microbiologist at the University of Nottingham, working on bacteria that infect sheep. She has previously designed and produced knitted microbes for veterinary and food safety microbiology teaching.

Pupils from classes 3E and 3F, Baskerville School, Birmingham. Baskerville School is a special day and residential school for students aged 11 to 19 years, with autistic spectrum disorders and complex difficulties.