Plankton Arts Exhibition

Thursday, July 6, 2017
Mix Radiolarian

Fascinating, never-before-seen images of plankton are on display in the Centre of Learning at the Maritime Museum. As part of the Plankton Planet Symposium, An Epic Voyage through Our Changing Seas held at the museum, the Plankton Planet Arts Display also opened on July 6.

Giant prints of plankton, 3-D printed models, lenticular prints, and videos show the beauty, functionality, and wide range of microscopic life forms. The public is invited to discover this hidden world for themselves. The display, curated by Sarah-Jane Blake, can be seen on weekends and during the school holidays from 6 – 30 July. 

For a teaser of Plankton Planet and the great work they do, check out this video.

The online exhibition is below.

About Plankton Planet

Plankton Planet’s mission is to provide the data necessary to enhance our understanding of our evolving planet at this critical climatic juncture. By combining this dynamic biological information about plankton populations with new computer models of our ocean’s systems, we will be able to better predict changes to our blue planet. 

Image: Mix SEM images

Plankton Planet (P2) is a non-profit organization that promotes excellence in citizen science and advances our understanding of planktonic ecosystems on a global scale. Our innovative, high-quality, low-cost program is creating a worldwide database of plankton samples thanks to the Planktonauts, motivated individuals of the international sailing community, and a transversal team of top scientists. Plankton Planet is the first citizen science program based on mass sequencing of DNA barcodes from extracts of plankton communities collected worldwide by a fleet of Planktonauts. This unique cooperation between scientists and volunteer Planktonauts allows high-quality scientific data to be gathered regularly and over distances never before possible.

Image: Mix of Foraminifera

The 2015 pilot project demonstrated the interest of citizen scientists in sailing communities to use collection kits and follow scientific protocol to conduct open-ocean sampling. They collected plankton from more than 300 sites across the world’s ocean. In total, more than 200 million DNA barcodes were sequenced, representing approximately 35,000 genera of planktonic organisms, most of which are not described, and/or, genetically distinct from known species. 


Images: (L) Acantharian, Lithoptera sp, (R) Diatom Asterolampralle.


The biodiversity of Plankton is vast, largely unexplored, and little understood. Plankton consist of a high diversity of aquatic organisms that cannot swim against the currents. The name plankton comes from the Greek word Planktos meaning “drifter.” Although they cannot control their horizontal direction, many plankton species make daily vertical voyages travelling as much as 400m or more in the water column. Plankton range in size from 0.0002mm to organisms much larger (1 meter). Plankton include marine viruses (viriroplankton), marine bacteria (bacterioplankton), and eukaryotes which encompasses many unicellular lineages (protists), and few multicellular lineages (animals, plants, seaweeds, fungi). Animals encompass the largest plankton size fraction. Among them, two categories can be distinguished: holozooplankton that pass from egg to adult in the plankton form, and merozooplankton that covers the larval stages of animals such as crabs, worms, shrimp, molluscs, and sea urchins. However, microbial eukaryotes (protist) are the most diverse and surprising component of the planktonic life. 

Image: Anatomy Ciliate

Some bacteria and planktonic eukaryotes can do photosynthesis (using sunlight energy to grow as land plants do). These organisms (phytoplankton) are  the primary producers of the oceanic food chain. Some others eukaryotes, including animals, are predators (zooplankton) and they are primary and secondary consumers. A significant part of the planktonic eukaryotes can combine both sources of energy (sunlight or prey) thank to various strategies and behavior (e.g. symbiosis).


Images: (L) Diatom Chain of Asterialopsis, (R) Diatom Chaetoceros Bulbosus

Plankton is important because it is the basis of the food chain for the entire ocean and beyond. Plankton produce more than 50% of the planet’s oxygen - every 2nd breath we take. Studying microbial life in the plankton provides finally new opportunities to better understand the evolution of life on earth.


Images: (L) Ciliate Oligotrich, (R) Diatom Pennate Pleurosigma

Plankton Arts

The Plankton Planet team us also dedicated to sharing the wonders of the world of plankton through fascinating, microscopic images and putting investigative science in the hands of everyone. 


Images: (L) Diatrom, Corethron sp, (R) Dinoflagellate Ornythocercus and Symbiotic Cynaobasteria

Since the invention of the microscope more than 300 years ago, microbes have generally been considered dangerous. But as we know today, they have made our planet habitable and they even constitute the majority of the cells of the human body. Marine plankton microbes are among the most charismatic and the easiest to observe. Therefore, they are an ideal material to promote awareness among adults and children generating positive reflection on the symbiosis and lasting balance of life on the Blue Planet.


Images: (L) Diatom Planktoniella, (R) Micro-Fossils Diatom

In the CNRS laboratory, we have developed microscopy protocols allowing unique 3D observations of plankton microorganisms and their intracellular structures. The Plankton-Arts Project aims to use the evocative power of 3D imaging technologies to present the extraordinary beauty and utility of marine microbes to the general public. While direct and numerical observations are two essential aspects, we also want to break the barrier of scale that separates us from these invisible organisms. To do this, we have chosen to mix traditional microphotography, hohgrams, and 3D printing technologies that allow you to hold in your hands and to see with new detail the extraordinary forms of plankton cells.


Images: (L) Ciliate Tintinnid Lorica of Dictyocysta Mitra, (R) Dinoflagellate Symbiosis Dionphysiales-Cyanobacteria

Microscopic Photo Technique:

Confocal laser scanning microscopy (CSLM) allows us to capture the image of plankton organisms in all three dimensions. This type of microscopy requires the use of flurescent dyes of various colors which stain specific cellular components such as DNA, membranes, protein, etc. The microscope then excites the fluorescent molecules of a specific space and volume and then captures the corresponding fluorescent signals of the various dyes. Point after point, the microscope is able to scan the fine sections of the entire thickness of the specimen being observed. The compilation of all the scanned sections allows for the three-dimensional reconstruction which creates a 3D model. Because each colour in the image corresponds to a specific fluorescent molecule, we can subsequently identify the specific cellular components. These 3D models can be used to generate 2D images, holograms, holograms, and 3D prints of the plankton as displayed here. 


Images: (L) Tintinnid Lorica, (R) Predation Apparatus of Tintintinnid Ciliate

While most images come from CSLM, we also display, one poster with Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) images which provides astonishing details of the microbial cell shapes, and two posters illustration specimens with dark field (dark background) light microscopy (LM) photography which contrasts nicely the transparent structures of the planktonic microbes.


Images: (L) Squeletton of Radiolarian, (R) Unknown Radiolarian Trapping Symbiotic Algae (red)