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This Gorgeous Art Is Made From Microbes

Scientist-artists grew their creations in petri dishes.

This Gorgeous Art Is Made From Microbes

ASM Agar Art

Neurons, the work that won the American Society for Microbiology’s first microbe art competition, uses a less-than-traditional paint. Mehmet Berkmen, a researcher at New England Biolabs, worked with artist Maria Penil to select colors: the microbe Nesterenkonia to create yellow, Deinococcus for orange, and Sphingomonas for a vibrant orangey-red. Once the microbes had been painted on a petri dish coated with a growth medium, the scientist-artists waited. The microbes silently munched on their microbe food—and grew.


By day two, the petri dish had grown into a vibrant “painting” of neurons, or nerve cells. Not an un-strategic choice for a science art competition.

The other winners from the ASM contest include, from Christine Marizzi, an educator at a New York community map, NYC Biome MAP. Here’s an excerpt (remarkably, the entire thing is shaped like NYC):

ASM Agar Art

From Maria Eugenia Inda, a postdoctoral researcher in New York, Harvest Season:

ASM Agar Art

And the People’s Choice Award winner (for receiving the most likes on Facebook), also from Berkman and Penil, Cell to Cell:

ASM Agar Art

Below are a few more of the 85 submissions to the ASM contest—including a shockingly faithful reproduction of Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night.

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Whooo's Got to Poo?, named for the human stool bacteria used to paint the owl’s yellow eyes:

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Superheroes!, painted with mutant strains of the same microbe. The bacteria are the “real” superheroes, the scientists explain, because “they hyper-produce antibiotics to fight off competitors and to protect their siblings.”

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Sand Dollar:

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