Have you ever seen art created in a petri dish using living, growing microorganisms? That's agar art! In 2015, ASM launched the ASM Agar Art contest to share the beautiful and diverse world of microbes with the public.

ASM Agar Art Logo

ASM’s 5th agar art contest will open in September 2019. 
Start planning your microbial masterpiece now!

Sign up for contest emails

Tutorial: How To Create Agar Art

Step inside the creative process with Agar Art 2015 winners Maria Peñil Cobo, Mixed Media Artist, and Mehmet Berkmen, Ph.D., Staff Scientist at New England Biolabs. During their multi-year collaboration, Maria and Memo have created astonishing works of art using living microbes. Find out how they meld science and art with this behind-the-scenes how-to video guide.

Previous Winners and Submissions:

PLEASE NOTE that the American Society for Microbiology and/or the artists hold COPYRIGHT for all images submitted to the ASM Agar Art contest. Please contact us if you would like to use them commercially or non-commercially so that we can ensure proper licensing and attribution.

ASM Agar Art 2018

"The battle of winter and spring," Ana Tsitsishvili, Undergraduate Student, Agricultural University of Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia. On the picture is shown the battle of two microbes, as the battle of two seasons. On one side Staphylococcus, white as winter snow and Bacillus mycoides, they grow fast and cover every other microbes, but when they meet beautiful spring flowers, made by Serratia marcescens, they retreat, because antibiotic, produced by Serratia inhibit their growth. They melt, as warmth of the spring melts the snow; on 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.

"My yellow vision!," Bornali Bhattacharjee, Ph.D., Ramanujan Fellow, National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, Kalyani, India. This is my ode to the Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gogh. It has often been speculated that Van Gogh suffered from a condition called Xanthopsia, an extreme vision bias for yellow. It is also told that during his illness he had painted one of the most celebrated masterpieces in yellow, Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers. If we were to turn our attention to the microbial world, the color yellow or golden resonates with none other than Staphylococccus aureus. I have used a multidrug resistant Staphylococcus aureus isolate collected from the nasopharynx of a preterm neonate to paint my own version of 'Vase with Sunflowers' in Mannitol salt agar. I definitely 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. I would like to start by conversing with school going children using visuals and agarart to convey the ill effects of antibiotic overuse. Once convinced, these children would go back home and convince their families to listen, comprehend and stop the rampant use of over-the-counter antibiotics.

"Sustenance," Mehmet Berkmen, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, New England Biolabs, Ipswich, MA, United States, Maria Peñil Cobo, Mixed Media Artist, Beverly, MA, United States. This bacterial agar art was made from two petri dishes representing the microbial communication between the mother and the child within her womb, connected by a red string. Microbes were isolated from the artist Maria Peñil, by pressing an agar plate on to her breast. Unidentified pink colonies isolated around the nipple area were used to draw the pink hues around the membrane glands, while recombinant E. coli expressing the violacein biosynthetic pathway were used to draw the dark-violet mammary glands. The yellow hues are Nesterenkonia, the orange placenta is Deinococcus radiodurans while the red embryo and the red nipple is Serratia marcenses. Intriguingly, the white Bacillus at the edges of womb were isolated from the hand of the 1-year old daughter of the artist, continuing the microbial connection between the mother and the child.

"A Salmonellosis Odyssey," María Laura Echarren, Ph.D. Student, Universidad Nacional de Rosario, Instituto de Biología Molecular y Celular de Rosario, Rosario, Argentina. Salmonellosis is among the most common foodborne diseases, with millions of human cases occurring worldwide every year. Outbreaks of Salmonella Typhimurium infections in humans are linked to intake of contaminated food products from poultry, cattle and pigs, fresh vegetables and fruits. In order to see these “invisible” microorganisms, scientists use petri dishes with agar media to grow bacteria and see them in a macroscopic way, known as a bacterial colony. In this artwork, María Laura Echarren, a student of my group, used wild type Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium (stars) and genetically modified Salmonella strains expressing a green-fluorescence protein (constellations). The stars were created by plating diluted media onto an agar plate and constellations were print with minidroplets of media. Each dot is a separate bacteria colony, visualized under UV-light. North Hemisphere shows: Leo, Pegasus, Ursa Minor. And South hemisphere: Orion, Sourthen Crux, Phoenix. Because we are microscopic in the immensity of the universe, like bacteria are for us, she got inspired to create this micro-universe of Salmonella constellations.

Facebook Galleries of Past Submissions

See 2018 Finalists
See 2017 Finalists
See 2016 Finalists
See 2015 Entries

Submission Rules:

  1. Submissions should be high-quality photos (at least 8" x 10" at 300 ppi) of pieces that are, at their core, one or more microorganisms growing on agar.

    1. You may use any organism(s), with any type(s) of agar, on any size or shape petri dish.

    2. No digital or artificial enhancements or manipulations (e.g., false coloring) are permitted.

    3. Pieces should be new and original, not seen/posted on the internet before or previously published or displayed elsewhere.

    4. Pieces must be accompanied by a description that captures key features of the piece in language appropriate for a general audience. Note that the description is judged as well as the piece!

  2. Pieces must be created safely in the appropriate Bio Safety Level environment for the organism(s) used. For more information, please consult ASM's Guidelines for Biosafety in Teaching Laboratories.

  3. Each submission may have up to 5 credited artists (submitter + 4 participants).

  4. Each submitter may submit a maximum of 2 pieces. Pieces for which you are listed as a participant, but are not the submitter, do not count toward this maximum.

  5. Submitters must be at least 18 years old. Minors must have an adult who is, or has permission from, the appropriate legal guardian submit on their behalf. ASM is not responsible for obtaining permission or verifying that it has been obtained.

  6. Submitters must be either current American Society for Microbiology members with a valid ASM member number or OR participants in an affiliated, public Agar Art workshop hosted by an official ASM Agar Art Partner organization.

    1. If you are not currently a member, you may join or renew prior to submitting your work.

    2. Public workshop participants will need the host partner's submission code.


Terms and Conditions:


The American Society of Microbiology will be subsequently abbreviated to ASM. Herein "Work" refers to participants' contest submissions, including, but not limited to videos, photos, writing, artwork, and/or designs. "Participants" refers to all individuals involved in the creation of said Work and "Submitter" refers to the individual submitting said Work on behalf of all participants to ASM. Submitter accepts the responsibilities detailed below on behalf of any and all additional, associated participants.


This contest is open to all ASM members, as well as non-members who worked with an official ASM Agar Art Partner to create the Work. Current ASM staff are not eligible, though ASM volunteers, former ASM staff, and the friends and relatives of ASM staff are eligible if they meet the primary eligibility criteria specified above.

Participation in this contest is open to groups of participants limited to 5 participants. Only the Submitter must meet the eligibility requirements.

Two submissions by the same Submitter are permitted.

Submitters must be 18 years of age or older. As it is relevant to the contest rules specified above, the Submitter must have prior permission from the appropriate legal guardians of any participant under 18 years of age (i.e. a minor) in order to submit work on behalf of said minor(s).

There is no entry fee for participation in the Agar Art 2018 contest.

Responsibilities of Participants

The Submitter, on behalf of all associated participants, affirms that: (1) he/she has authority to submit said Work for this contest; (2) the submitted Work is the original creation of the participants, has not appeared anywhere else in any other form, and does not violate or infringe upon any copyright, trademark, privacy, or other proprietary rights of any entity or person; (3) the participants have secured any and all permissions and releases from any applicable third parties as required by law in the creation of the Work and royalty-free, irrevocable, and perpetual license of said Work to ASM; and (4) for any and all minors (persons under the age of 18 years old) permission for their participation in the creation of said Work has been obtained from their legal guardian(s), prior to participation in creating said Work and after disclosure of any and all risks involved.

The Submitter, on behalf of all associated participants, hereby acknowledges and agrees to the following:

  1. Each participant, including herself/himself has accepted full responsibility for submitting any necessary ethics-related report(s) to their employer, funding agency, and/or appropriate managing office and the responsibility of advising ASM if ASM is required to submit a report to any of these same entities.

  2. ASM has the right, but not the obligation, to monitor this contest to ensure compliance with all legal conditions and guidelines. Submitter agrees that the burden of determining the Submitter's legal authority to use, display, submit, and license rights of said Work and its components lies solely with the Submitter, who also bears the sole liability for any damages related to infringement upon the aforementioned rights of any other entity or person.

  3. ASM and any relevant partners, affiliates, and sponsors are not liable for any and all costs, damages, claims, liabilities, or expenses of any sort associated with the creation and/or submission of said Work, the acceptance and use of any prize awarded, or any public comments made by third parties about said Work upon its public display.

  4. ASM is not responsible for any technical failures or problems of any kind associated with any mode of electronic submission used, nor for any delays, restrictions, or problems associated with postal delivery of said Work.

  5. ASM is not responsible for any damages and/or alterations to said Work resulting from the selected or required delivery method.

  6. No component of said Work is permitted to contain any language, imagery, or themes that are offensive, objectionable, discriminatory or threatening against any persons, or illegal.

Rights of ASM and Governing Law

ASM retains the right to alter, effectively immediately, any component of this contest at any time without prior notification, including, but not limited to suspending and/or prematurely terminating this contest prior to the close of the submission date. Should ASM decide to prematurely terminate this contest, any materials physically delivered to ASM will be returned to Submitters, electronic submissions will be deleted, and all rights will revert back to the Submitter and any and all additional participants.

All Works and participants associated with any participant suspected or known to be in violation of the legal conditions and guidelines set forth in this contest will be disqualified at ASM's sole determination without the obligation of prior notification or means to appeal.
ASM retains the right to overrule or amend any decisions by non-ASM staff judges, without prior notification.

All ASM contests' legal conditions and guidelines are governed by the laws of the District of Columbia. Any claim, dispute, or suit arising from an ASM sponsored contest will be settled in this venue.

Void where prohibited by law.

Final Ownership of Work

Submitter, on behalf of all participants, hereby agrees to license the Work to ASM for the full term of copyright and any extensions thereto on a nonexclusive, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide basis. This license from Submitter to ASM shall include the right to: (i) publish, reproduce, distribute, publicly display, and archive the Work in all forms, now known or later developed, (ii) create adaptations or other derivative works based on the Work, (iii) sell copies of the Work with or without other submitted works, and (iv) sublicense to others on an noncommercial or commercial basis to do any or all of the above. Submitter affirms that he/she has the legal authority to grant these rights.

Submitter hereby agrees on behalf of all associated participants that the names and/or biographical and demographic information of each associated participant, including the Submitter, may be used by ASM without compensation, unless prohibited by law, for promotional purposes of this current and any future contests or similar contests, including, but not limited to, announcement of contest winners and advertisements. ASM agrees to request additional, subsequent permission for the use of any participant's likeness, image/photograph, and/or voice outside of any of these already provided as part of said Work, in the event the need or desire arises.

Agar Art Partner Rights

If the Work was created through a workshop held by an ASM Agar Art Partner, Submitter also agrees to grant that partner a license to publish, reproduce, distribute and publicly display the Work.

Compensation and Prizes

Submitter acknowledges on behalf of all participants that participation in this contest is voluntary and that no participant will receive financial compensation of any type associated with this submission or from any use of the submission by ASM.
Prizes will be awarded to the submitter and/or any other parties specified in the individual contest language, if such language is present. Prizes are non-transferrable. Awardees are responsible for all federal, state, and local taxes, surcharges, and fees applicable to the prizes. Forfeited prizes, through awardee refusal or disqualification of participant(s)/associated work, must be returned to ASM within 90 days of forfeiture, if dispatched. ASM may, at its sole discretion, decide to award said prizes to other parties entered in the same contest. ASM is not responsible for lost or stolen prizes.

Questions? Email  communications@asmusa.org.