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Scientists Recreate ‘Starry Night’ Using Bacteria as Paint

Scientists Recreate ‘Starry Night’ Using Bacteria as Paint

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.

MicrobeArt-butterfly-20151019Source: Manal Hamed

MicrobeArt-neurons-20151019Source: Mehmet Berkmen and Maria Penil

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.

MicrobeArt-bioMap-20151019NYC Biome Map. Source: Christine Marizzi and Genspace: New York City’s Community Biolab

MicrobeArt-Drpoo-20151019Source: ASM Agar Art Competition/Facebook

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

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