Cyanobacteria Doing the Dance of 3.5-Billion Years


In a spirit of play, rather than objective science, I created a 1,000x videomicrograph of salt marsh Cyanobacteria, and set their dance to music. Click on the dark triangle in the middle of the picture below [your system will need the sound turned on and the free-ware version of QuickTime Player].

Below is a still photomicrograph at 1,000x magnification, using Hoffman Modulation Contrast, a filter/polarizer method of enhancing contrast for high-magnification viewing of living material in a wet mount. Here, I have identifiy the “parts” of the Cyanobacteria. The genus is Oscillatoria and the species is unknown.

1000x Cyano Results


The Cyanobacteria were in a sample taken at Old Site-1 [OS-1] in the winter of 2007. OS-1 is a sample site in the Heron’s Head Park salt marsh “pond complex” in San Francisco. Heron’s Head Park is part of the San Francisco Bay wetlands.

The microscope uses Olympus Hoffman Modulation Contrast optics, supported on a modified Olympus Irvine 6X6 trinocular stand with a Cole Parmer High Intensity 150W Illuminator attached via a 3/4″ lucite rod light conductor.

A simple wet mount of a 1-microliter sample was used. Sample salinity was about 40-PPT. Stop cock grease was used around the edge of the coverslip to anchor it firmly and prevent evaporation. The oil immersion 100x objective was used with 10x eyepieces and a 10x Zeiss screw-top eyepiece in the trinocular camera mount. Videomicrographs were shot over a 6-hour period.

The videomicrographs were taken in 30-second segments at standard video frame speed with a Nikon Coolpix 885 camera screwed to the Zeiss eyepiece with as Nikon UR-E4 ring. The 30-second segments were downloaded to a PC, where they were trimmed and joined in QuickTime Pro. A Lexar 2GB memory chip was used to transfer the final QuickTime video to a Mac iBook G4.

I created the “Cello” background on my Mac iBook G4, using GarageBand. Here is a fragment of the score…


These mat-forming Cyanobacteria are slowly motile, presumably moving in response to oxygen tension, carbon dioxide concentration, and light. They have been moving in mats like this for the last 3.5-billion years, creating our present oxygen atmosphere during the first 3-billion of those years. I wanted to capture in sound a sense of this deep time, and the continuous slow restless movement over those years. The Cello seemed to produce the right low sonorous tones.

The QuickTime video track and the GarageBand 557-kB sound track were mixed on iMovie. The resulting “movie” was downloaded to YouTube, from whence it was embedded in this Hidden Ecologies BLOG.

One Response to “Cyanobacteria Doing the Dance of 3.5-Billion Years”

  1. Mike Barlow Says:

    This is really cool. It’s like looking at a living fossil. Very nice!