It’s hard to believe some of these pieces of art are microbe masterpieces, “painted” entirely in bacteria and yeast. Every year, the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) hosts an art competition that challenges scientists to get creative with agar, a gelatinous substance used to make biological cultures. From Vincent van Gogh’s iconic Starry Night, to an intricate map of New York City, the submissions from this year are as stunning as any normal painting we’ve seen.
The petri dish paintings are created much the same way that stencil drawings or silk-screens are made. Bacteria and yeasts were laid into the agar, which serves as a soil-like surface for the microbes, which then begin to grow. Because many microbes synthesize molecules of pigment, we see them in a brilliant array of colors, from Spirillum rubrum purple to Pseudomonas fluoresces yellow. Imagine the “happy little bacteria” we’d get if Bob Ross got his hands on these goods.
There’s even a TARDIS in the mix, created by laying E. coli bacteria on agar plates containing a reagent called X-gal. X-gal is a sugar that appears colorless, but is linked to a dark blue dye. Some microbes, like these tiny bacteria, can synthesize an enzyme (β-galactosidase) that snips the X-gal, releasing the blue color as the colony grows. Wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey, and all that jazz.
You can view all the entries on the contest Facebook Page. Check out more of the winners in the gallery below.
IMAGES: ASM Agar Art Competition, repurposed with permission