“Susceptible” is a data-driven interactive digital artwork by Anna Dumitriu and Alex May based on cutting-edge research from CRyPTIC, an international consortium led by the University of Oxford. CRyPTIC’s research analysed thousands of images of the tuberculosis (TB) bacteria growing in the presence of different antibiotics. Researchers then combined that data with information about the whole genome sequences of those bacteria, in order to predict, for the first time, which of the four first-line antibiotic medicines (isoniazid, rifampicin, ethambutol or pyrazinamide) will be effective in treating a patient with tuberculosis based on the DNA sequence of the bacteria infecting them.
A video version of the work premieres as part of Neural Network Apophenia curated by Artur Konstantinov for the Moscow based EVERART international festival of contemporary art, which will take place online between 3rd July and 3rd August 2020.
CRyPTIC brought together 10,290 M. tuberculosis samples, representing all major strain lineages, obtained from people in sixteen different countries across six continents, along with a knowledge base of M. tuberculosis genome mutations that are associated with resistance or susceptibility to the four drugs.
In the artwork TB bacillus swarm around the bronchi and alveoli of the lung. The four antibiotics are represented by four different coloured cloud-like elements (the colours are inspired by the appearance of the medicines: red for rifampicin, yellow for isoniazid, white for ethambutol and peach for pyrazinamide). The TB bacteria each represent a different sample, which, if they are susceptible to one of the four drugs are attracted to it and destroyed.
The artwork is richly layered with time-based origin and destination data from London’s Gatwick Airport from before, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown period in the form of contrail-like threads which cross the images. This highlights the increasingly urgent point that health is a global issue which needs global solutions and collaboration. It shows explicitly the massive reduction in flights that occurred during the 2020 pandemic.
The interactive installation brings the bodies of exhibition visitors into the piece as the bacteria interact with them and they interact with the antibiotics. The installation (in its interactive or video form) can be accompanied by sculptural and biological elements from Dumitriu’s ongoing “Romantic Disease” series that include the presence of actual TB DNA.
The project aims to engage diverse audiences in this important scientific research that will help combat antibiotic resistance and improve the lives of patients affected by tuberculosis, still the world’s greatest infectious killer.
This project is supported by DRIVA Arts DRIVA (Digital Research and Innovation Accelerator) which is led by the University of Brighton (UK) and funded by the European Structural Investment Fund and Arts Council England. The project is also being developed in partnership with Irini Papadimitriou, Creative Director of FutureEverything.