Art As Infection


This year, the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) launched its first Agar Art contest, inviting ASM members to create a piece of art using microbes as the paint and petri dishes as the canvas. The group of microbiologists took their painting skills to the limit with their submissions, showing that bacteria can be beautiful.

The “infectious painting” above, straight from a petri dish, is titled Hunger Games. This 3D-printed agar plate shows a grey and a pink actinomycete with a very dark brown halo, most likely melanin. Actinomycetes are beautiful filamentous microorganisms that are also a major source of medical natural products, such as antibiotics and anti-tumour agents. Actinomycetes produce 70% of all known antibiotics. The white strain, Streptomyces coelicolor, produces the blue-pigmented polyketide antibiotic actinorhodin. So there. Learn and paint.

See the winners and some of my favorite entries below:


petri-dish-contest-1-NeuronsThe 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.)

Microbial mappetri-dish-contest-2-nyc-biome-map

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.)

Harvest Seasonpetri-dish-contest-3-harvest-season

A more pastoral landscape also grabbed judges’ attention, and the third place slot in the contest. The “Harvest Season” piece features the green, yellow and red hues of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a species of yeast. The autumnal entry, which depicts a farmhouse surrounded by wheat fields, was submitted by Maria Eugenia Inda, a postdoctoral researcher from Argentina who works at Cold Spring Harbor Labs in New York.

Viral artworkpetri-dish-contest-9-yeast-goes-viral

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.)

Botanical sunpetri-dish-contest-6-Flowering-Sunshine

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

The Violet Louis Pasteur


The portrait of Louis Pasteur was drawn with Chromobacterium violaceum on Muller Hinton agar. Chromobacterium violaceum is a gram negative bacillus which is motile and a facultative anaerobe. These species are common inhabitants of the environment but occasionally can cause infections in animals and humans and are known to be opportunistic pathogens.

And an irresistible Salmonelly the Kitten:kittyThis picture shows a funny kitten named Salmonelly. The black silhouette of that kitten was made by using the bacterium Salmonella enteric serovar Typhi(ATCC® 6539™), the causative agent of Typhoid fever, a human bloodstream infection that is common in the developing world. The pink hair bow decorating her head, was made by using Escherichia coli (ATCC® 25922™) cells, a commensal bacterium of the bowel flora of healthy individuals.

Take a look at all of the Agar Art Contest entries on the American Society for Microbiology’s Facebook page.


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