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BIOFILM - Wim van Egmond

BIOFILM preview

Wim van Egmond

For almost a year, micro-photographer Wim van Egmond worked with NIOZ researchers Michele Grego and Henk Bolhuis to create time-lapse films and microscopic images of life on and in the mudflats. The result is the BIOFILM exhibition, which reveals the hidden life of the mudflats. The world of microbes, single-celled organisms and micro-animals is hugely magnified. 

Most people are unaware how full of life the sand and silt is, and how wonderfully beautiful many of these organisms are. BIOFILM demonstrates that the animals you normally see in films are just a sideshow. Forget about seals, birds and fish: life in the Wadden Sea is all about the microbes. Without these microscopically small but incredibly numerous organisms, we’d be gasping for breath with nothing to eat – we wouldn’t even be here. They are the earth’s primeval life, the basis of our existence. 

After seeing BIOFILM, you will feel completely different as you stroll along the beach. Very carefully, so as not to crush the microorganisms.

Is it a work of art?

Is it a scientific experiment?

No, it’s BIOFILM.

The film in which our planet’s real superheroes finally get the attention they deserve. The microbes of the mudflats, the primeval life, the basis of everything, the tiny, almost invisible creatures that make all other life in the sea and on land possible. Overlooked by disinterested birdwatchers and beach goers, trampled by tourists. This summer, they will finally get the attention they deserve.

Your life will never be the same again after seeing BIOFILM. Never again will you cross the mudflats like you did before, ignorant of everything going on there: all of that toiling away in the mud, the endless eating and being eaten, all the swarming and crawling creatures. All the effort that it takes to make your existence possible.

Location Artwork: Ecomare 
Ruijslaan 92, 1796 AZ De Koog
Number 10 (see map)


Dr Henk Bolhuis, marine microbiologist: 
‘On the beaches and mudflats you often see a greenish-brown layer left behind on the ground when the water retreats. The term for this is “microbial mats”. “Microbial” because they consist of microbes, i.e. single-celled algae and bacteria, and “mats” because they are networks of microbes and sand grains that you can sometimes pull away from the sand like a doormat.’
‘Working with Michele Grego, I’ve been researching the mats of cyanobacteria, or “blue-green algae”, on the beaches at Schiermonnikoog for a long time. But now that I’ve seen these mats through the eyes of film-maker and photographer Wim van Egmond, they’ll never look the same again. In particular, Wim has beautifully captured the movement of the bacteria. As a scientist, I’ve really been able to draw new inspiration from this for research.’

Algae and bacteria as you’ve never seen them before
Marine microbiologist Dr Henk Bolhuis and research assistant Michele Grego study the slippery, greenish-brown layers that cover parts of the beach and exposed tidal flats. ‘These are microbial mats,’ explains Bolhuis. ‘They consist of a mesh of algae and bacteria that is sometimes so strong it really can be pulled away from the ground like a solid mat.’

Solar panels of the mudflats
‘Cyanobacteria and diatoms (a type of algae) are the solar panels of the mudflats. By day, they use the energy from sunlight to grow and to produce sugars as a food reserve. They use this to sustain themselves at night, deeper in the ground, until the sun comes up again.’

DNA doesn’t move
‘As a microbiologist, I normally pull apart the algae and bacteria I study almost immediately, for example to look at their DNA. But with film-maker Wim van Egmond we looked at the mats in a completely different way. Every few minutes Wim took a microscopic photo of the layer, from above or from the side, and then stuck the photos together like a film. In this way he was able to compress, say, a month’s worth of movements into a minute. Then you suddenly see how different microbes move to the surface at night to obtain oxygen. You also get a great view of the coloured layers: green from the cyanobacteria on top, below that purple from the bacteria that convert sulphur, and then black. The DNA from my traditional research doesn’t move of course, so Wim’s work has really given Michele and me inspiration for new research. Art and science come together here in a very productive way.’

More information about Henk and Michele’s work can be found on the NIOZ website.

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SEA Texel

Ruim 70 procent van onze aarde bestaat uit zee. Een onuitputtelijke bron van inspiratie. S.E.A brengt een ode aan de zee, door kunstwerken geïnspireerd op wetenschap op Texel te realiseren.

Contact informatie

Project SEA
Pontweg 19
1797 SN Den Hoorn, Texel