Bacteria Masterpieces – Art In A Petri Dish

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You probably never thought that bacteria could be beautiful. Then you probably never heard of Agar Art Contest either. This is an annual contest held by the American Society for Microbiology and every year there are some simply amazing bacteria masterpieces.

Agar is a gelatinous substance which is put into the petri dish and in which bacteria grows. For the contest microbiologists and artists “paint” strands of bacteria in this substance and then wait for it to grow. Each color depends on what kind of bacteria was used.

Here are some of the winners and crowd favorites of this year:

Brainy bacteria

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The first place prize in the contest went to Mehmet Berkmen of New England Biolabs and artist Maria Penil, who used yellow and orange-colored bacteria to paint the nerve cells they painted in their submission, called “Neurons.” (Credit: American Society for Microbiology/Mehmet Berkmen and Maria Penil from Massachusetts.)

Ode to autumn

asm, american society for microbiology, agar art contest

Third place went to Maria Eugenia Inda, a postdoctoral researcher at Cold Spring Harbor Labs in New York, who created this petri dish masterpiece, “Harvest Season,” using yeast. The bacteria-laden painting features a tiny farmhouse surrounding by wheat fields. (Credit: American Society for Microbiology/Maria Eugenia Inda from Argentina.)

People’s Choice

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This entry from Berkmen and Penil (the same duo that won first place in the competition) took home the “Viewers’ Choice” award. (Credit: American Society for Microbiology/Mehmet Berkmen and Maria Penil from Massachusetts.)

Microbial map

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Christine Marizzi submitted this intricate map of New York City, and the interesting composition earned her second place. A community educator, Marizzi worked with citizen scientists and artists at Genspace: New York City’s Community Biolab to create this street map of the Big Apple. (Credit: American Society for Microbiology/Christine Marizzi and Genspace: New York City’s Community Biolab.)

Probiotic painting

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These blossoming flowers are the work of researchers from IPLA-CSIC, a dairy research institute in Spain. The bacteria used to paint the blossoms is a popular probiotic, Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis. (Credit: American Society for Microbiology.)

Botanical sun

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This piece, entitled “Flowering Sunshine,” was submitted by Manal Hamed of Qatar. (Credit: American Society for Microbiology/Manal Hamed of Qatar.)

Secret garden

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This entry, titled “The Wild Garden of the Gut Bacteria,” was submitted by Nicola Fawcett of the University of Oxford. Fawcett said she was inspired to create this swirling floral piece by the veritable “garden” of bacteria that lives, you guessed it, in the human gut. (Credit: American Society for Microbiology/by Nicola Fawcett of England.)

Microbe master

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Just when you thought Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” couldn’t get any more beautiful, someone goes and recreates this masterpiece out of bacteria. Melanie Sullivan, a researcher at the Washington University School of Medicine, painted these petri dishes using a variety of bacteria, including one — Acinetobacter baumanii — that can be harmful to people with weakened immune systems. (Credit: American Society for Microbiology/Melanie Sullivan of Missouri.)

Viral artwork

asm, american society for microbiology, agar art contest

Submitted by Paul Rowley of the University of Colorado, Boulder, this geometrically themed piece shows virus particles. The shapes were painted using a strain of yeast called S. cerevisiae, which was infected with a virus called L-A. (Credit: American Society for Microbiology/Paul Rowley of Colorado.)

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