bioart blog

Patterns in Biology and Nature

August 9, 2018

By Mina Zarfsaz


In an earlier post, it was mentioned that BioArt emphasizes the dialogical and relational (e.g., cross- pollination, social intercourse, cell interaction, interspecies communication) as much as the material and formal qualities of art (the shape of frogs, the color of flowers, bioluminescence, the patterns on butterfly wings). Visualizing biological data, specially extraction of patterns help us compare and contrast behaviors in cellular studies and in the world at large.


Here, at Integral Molecular, scientists run non-stop experiments in finding differential patterns to elucidate the underlying biological processes in a molecular level, e.g. how proteins bind, or how Molecular Expressions in the world of optical microscopy, give us an idea of cellular behavior.


Most of the biological processes orchestrated in the lab create fascinating images that would seem very interesting to a visual person such an artist.


For example, In biotechnology, flow cytometry is a laser- or impedance-based, biophysical technology employed in cell counting, cell sorting, biomarker detection and protein engineering, by suspending cells in a stream of fluid and passing them through an electronic detection apparatus. Flow cytometry is routinely used in the diagnosis of health disorders, especially blood cancers, but has many other applications in basic research, clinical practice and clinical trials.


The data generated by flow-cytometers can be plotted in a single dimension, to produce a histogram, or in two-dimensional dot plots or even in three dimensions. The regions on these plots can be sequentially separated, based on fluorescence intensity, by creating a series of subset extractions, termed “gates.” (Wikipedia)

1 Flow cytometric (pseudo-color/smooth) plots showing the gating strategy
( Article number: 42214)

2 GFP fluorescence and flow cytometry. (


Our current Artist in Residence, Deirdre Murphy is also concerned with studying the underlying patterns in behavioral science and nature.  She writes, “As an artist, I paint with the attentiveness of a scientist, observing our natural world beyond the visible surface. My interest lies in the interconnected qualities of art and science, specifically the birds and stars that inhabitant the sky above us. Spring and fall migratory constellations provide metaphors for structure, pattern, and content in my work. Through the act of painting I am simultaneously part of the matrix of life and an observer of nature. The scientific data of flight maps and seasonal constellations is visualized into patterns and becomes a language to describe my relationship to nature, to the inter-connected quality in our lives.  Convection currents that allow birds to loft and soar for hundreds of miles, become a formal compositional tool in my paintings. Ultimately the flock patterns reveal mental maps, illuminating a path to seeing the world anew. These patterns become metaphors to explore our humanity as part of a much bigger world than we imagine.” (

Deirdre Murphy - various projects

At Integral Molecular, Deirdre is currently studying cell behavior with the fluorescent microscope and flow cytometer. Follow us as we share Deridre’s progress on her experiments in pattern and  color. 

Deirdre Murphy - sketching cells with the fluorescent microscope at Integral Molecular