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This Gorgeous Art Is Made From Microbes

Scientist-artists grew their creations in petri dishes.

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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