Agar Art has been gaining momentum amongst the science fraternity these days. So much so that, the American Society for Microbiology created an Agar Art Contest to showcase this artist ability of microbiologists and students studying microbiology. ASM announced the winners of their 4th annual Agar Art contest which saw some phenomenal artworks created using living, growing microbes ‘painted’ on agar.

What is it?

An annual event hosted by the American Society of Microbiology where the young and the old come to celebrate Agar art work. These artworks are created by using living microbes grown on a agar, gelatin-like substance that serves as food for the microorganisms. ASM’s Agar Art contest began in 2015 and merges science with art to engage non-scientists and the science-interested public with microbiology.

The Objective of the Competition

“The goal of Agar Art is to provide a venue for the creativity of ASM’s scientist members and to highlight the beauty and diversity of the microbial world,” said Katherine Lontok, ASM’s Public Outreach Manager. “Microbes like bacteria and viruses are so often seen in a negative light because of their association with disease, but many of them are not only quite beautiful, they are essential for our world.”

The Selection Procedure

A panel of scientists and bioartists judged 156 entries from 23 different countries and 22 US states. The judges assessed entries based on their creativity, artistry of design, the scientific accuracy of their description, and their accessibility to a general audience.

The Contest Winners

  1. The first place winner, “The Battle of Winter and Spring” was created by Ana Tsitsishvili, an undergraduate student at the Agricultural University of Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia. Tsitsishvili won 3rd place in 2017. Said Tsitsishvili, “The winter side, comprised of Staphylococcus, and Bacillus mycoidesmicrobes battle the colorful spring flowers, made by Serratia marcescens. An antibiotic produced by Serratia inhibits the growth of the winter side. They melt, as warmth of the spring melts the snow; on the other side of the plate, spring wins, flowers of resistant Micrococcus, Rhodotorula and their mix are growing, as after winter always comes the spring and nature awakes.”

2. Second place winner, “My Yellow Vision!” was created by Bornali Bhattacharjee, Ph.D., Ramanujan Fellow, National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, Kalyani, India. Dr. Bhattacharjee created this work as an ode to Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gogh and one of his most celebrated masterpieces in yellow, Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers.

“I want to contribute to the prevention of antimicrobial resistance through research, but, I also hope to increase awareness about antimicrobial resistance among the general population in my country through microbial art,” said Dr. Bhattacharjee.

3. The third place agar artwork, “Sustenance”, was a collaboration between Mehmet Berkmen, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, New England Biolabs and Maria Peñil Cobo, a mixed media artist. This marks the second time that Berkmen and Peñil Cobo have entered a winning piece in the contest – in 2015, they took 1st place for “Neurons.” This year’s artwork was made from two petri dishes representing the microbial communication between a mother and the child within her womb, connected by a red string.

Peñil Cobo isolated microbes by pressing an agar plate on to her breast. The yellow hues are Nesterenkonia bacteria, the orange placenta is Deinococcus radiodurans, while the red embryo and the red nipple are Serratia marcenses. The artists also used genetically modified E. coli expressing the violacein biosynthetic pathway to draw the dark-violet mammary glands. Intriguingly, the white Bacillus at the edges of womb were isolated from the hand of Peñil Cobo’s 1-year old daughter, continuing the microbial connection between mother and child.

People’s Choice Award

“A Salmonellosis Odyssey” won the People’s Choice award, with over 1,500 likes on Facebook. In this artwork, María Laura Echarren, a Ph. D. student at Universidad Nacional de Rosario, Instituto de Biología Molecular y Celular de Rosario, Rosario, Argentina, used wild type Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium (stars) and genetically modified Salmonella strains expressing a green-fluorescence protein (constellations). Each dot is a separate bacterial colony, visualized under UV-light. The Northern Hemisphere shows Leo, Pegasus, and Ursa Minor, and the Southern hemisphere shows Orion, Southern Crux, and Phoenix.

“We are microscopic in the immensity of the universe, like bacteria are for us,” said Ms. Echarren, “This inspired me to create a micro-universe of Salmonella constellations.”

Other Agar Art Contests

ASM also hosted two affiliate contests this year, Agar Art Maker and Agar Art Kids. These affiliate contests were open to people ages 13 and older and to those 12 and younger, respectively, who participated in public Agar Art workshops hosted by ASM’s 10 community lab partners.

Each community partner organization held between 1 and 4 public workshops where non-ASM members created living masterpieces and submitted them to the ASM Agar Art 2018 contest. View the full list of ASM Agar Art partners.

Agar Art Maker Winners

  1. “Serratia Octopus”, the first place winner of the Agar Art Maker contest, was created with vibrant and vigorous Serratia marcescens bacteria, which changes color depending on its environment, and the age of the culture. The artwork was created by Tiare Ribeaux and Patrik D’haeseleer at Counter Culture Labs, Oakland, CA. Ribeaux is a professional artist who is part of the ZERO1 American Arts Incubator in San Jose, CA and serves as Artistic Director for the B4BEL4B Gallery, Oakland, CA.
  2. “The Sitting President”, created by Daniel Pham at the Baltimore Underground Science Space, Baltimore, MD won second place in the Agar Art Maker contest. “A Bumble Bee, Bacteria, and Mold: Could this be art in the making?”, created by Allison Granberry at the Cold Spring Harbor DNA Learning Center, Cold Spring Harbor, NY won third place.
  3. “The Magnificent Butterfly,” created by Kate Lin, Age 10, Grade 5, at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory DNA Learning Center, Cold Spring Harbor, NY, took first place in the Agar Art Kids competition.
  4. “Blue Tulip”, created by Simran Bhattacharya, Age 11, at TheLab Inc, Los Angeles, CA, won second place in the kids contest. “Ocean and Windy Breeze”, created by Alice Laun, Age 5 at the Baltimore Underground Science Space, Baltimore, MD, won third place.

To view more artwork from ASM’s 2018 Agar Art competition, visit the Facebook album.

Now,  that you know about such amazing artwork, how about hosting one such competition in your college? Make way for your artistic microbiology skills and do write to us. We will feature your work. 

Source: American Society for Microbiology (ASM)