Congratulations to our 2019 ASM Agar Art Contest Winners! 

Professional Category

1st Place

"Seemingly Simple Elegance," Arwa Hadid, Undergraduate MLS Student, Oakland University, Rochester Hills, MI, United States.

"On the plate is a simple portrait of a Koi fish with a lotus flower. However, hidden within the lines are nine different organisms used to bring the picture to life. The lotus flower is made of Micrococcus luteus as a starting point for the center of the flower. Radiating out of it are petals made of Escherichia coli outlined with Staphylococcus saprophyticus to add depth and color to each individual stroke. Surrounding it is a lotus leaf thick like the organism it is made of, Proteus vulgaris. The Koi, on the other hand, is made of Klebsiella pneumoniae, a mucoid and almost metallic organism, the color of which is enhanced with Staphylococcus aureus which outlines each individual scale and gives shape to the body. A subtle orange tinge was given to the fins with Proteus mirabilis while the eyes are a piercing metallic blue haloed with red that is created by Citrobacter freundii. To encompass it all in calm blue water is Enterococcus faecalis."

2nd Place (tie)

"The Notorious R.B.G. on V.R.B.G.," Michael E. Taveirne, Ph.D., Teaching Assistant Professor, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, United States.

"Ruth Bader Ginsburg (R.B.G.) is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. In her 60-year legal career she has tirelessly fought for women’s rights and gender equality. From her humble upbringing in Brooklyn New York, to breaking down barriers on her path to serving as an Associate Justice on the US Supreme Court for over 25 years, Ruth Bader Ginsburg rightfully has become known as the Notorious RBG. This agar art portrait of R.B.G., with her iconic lace collar and dark-rimmed glasses, was painted on V.R.B.G. agar media (which is an acronym for the components in the media which include the dye Violet Red, Bile, and the sugar Glucose). This media is typically used to selectively grow Gram-negative bacteria and assess if they can metabolize, through fermentation, the sugar glucose. Bacteria that can ferment glucose will produce acidic products which will turn the media bright pink. The microorganism used to paint this portrait was the Gram-negative bacterium Escherichia coli, strain K-12. Typically, this bacterium looks white; however, as it can ferment the glucose in the media, it appears bright pink on this V.R.B.G. agar plate."

"Ablution," Michael V. Magaogao, Senior Lab Technician, RAK Medical & Health Sciences University, Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates.

"Ablution means “to wash away”. It also means ritual washing associated with religious observance. In hot, arid and water-stressed region like Middle East urinary tract infection (UTI) is common. So one must not only wash externally but drink plenty of water too. Hydration is key in preventing UTI. For this reason I depicted desert, camel and date tree representing landscape of Middle East. I chose CLED agar used in isolating and enumerating bacteria in urine. Desert is Staphylococcus aureus, causing UTI among patients with urinary tract catheterization. Camel is Escherichia coli. E.coli-caused UTIs occur in the lower urinary tract or even to the kidneys. Trunk of the tree Providencia stuartii, opportunistic pathogen seen in patients with severe burns or long-term indwelling urinary catheters. Leaves are Proteus mirabilis, frequently pathogen of urinary tract, particularly in patients undergoing long-term catheterization. CLED agar is electrolyte deficient which suppress the swarming of Proteus. However in this art I incubated the agar at 36°C for 18hrs then further 24hrs at 4°C. Swarming still occurs if incubated too long but at lower temperature swarming is slow, my purpose for this art. I wanted a bit of swarming to look like leaves of the palm tree."

3rd Place

"Fu(n)ji-san," Isabel Franco Castillo, Ph.D. Student, Instituto de Ciencia de Materiales de Aragón (ICMA-CSIC/UNIZAR & CIBER-BBN), Zaragoza, Spain.

"This 3D agar art represents a volcanic eruption on an island, spewing lava down the mountainside towards the beach, surrounded by corals. The red corals surrounding the island have been made with a microorganism isolated from food, incubated on PCA medium dyed with Brilliant Blue colorant. The volcanic mountain is made of PDA medium shaped as a mountain, inoculated with the mould Cladosporium cladosporioides. The lava spouting forth from the crater was made by dropping agar stained with red food colouring. The idyllic beach at the foot of the volcano was made by pouring the beige-coloured spores of the mould Aspergillus ochraceus."

People's Choice

"Hungarian Folk Art," Zita Pöstényi, Microbiologist, SYNLAB Hungary Ltd., Budapest, Hungary.

"Hungarian folk art occupies an important space in the country's culture: colorful embroidery, pottery, lace produced by craftsmen are displayed in museums or you can see them everywhere in the countryside. These masterpieces can be so colorful and amazing like bacteria on chromogenic agar plates. When I was a child I attended folk dance classes and it was a great experience when we could put the beautifully embroidered clothes on. I tried to give something back from that feeling through this artwork."

Maker Category

1st Place

"My Living Portrait," Korey Abram, Prairie View, TX, United States.

"My piece is a bacterial self-portrait, utilizing both Serratia (red) and Micrococcus (yellow) bacteria. I was only given 4 bacterial species to work into my design. This piece was made possible with the help of my school's Biology department. I am a Digital Media Arts student at Prairie View A&M University, and through this project we were able to connect the worlds of design and microbiology. It was an overall great experience and a really cool medium to use in design!"

2nd Place

"The Microbes Among Us," Aradhita Parasrampuria, New York, NY, United States.

"I recently discovered that from around 30 trillion cells in the human body—less than a third—are human. The other 70-90% are bacterial and fungal and, ninety-nine per cent of the unique genes in the human body are bacterial. Only about one per cent is human. Ironically, there is a negative stigma associated with bacteria, and many people are afraid of bacteria and fungus even though our bodies are covered by the same. After news of E-coli found in McDonald's lettuce broke out, people became terrified of it even though most E. coli are harmless and are an essential component of a healthy human intestinal tract. To create my piece, I used e.coli with a plasmid containing LacZ and Kanamycin resistance. The woman in this image is formed by bacteria, as is the bird on her knee, her shoes, her clothes and the environment surrounding them. This piece will either help lessen the stigma associated with bacteria or induce a panic attack for germaphobes."

3rd Place

"Mondays like these...," Andrea Héjja, Budapest, Hungary.

"Our agonised face seems like this on Monday morning as symbolising the anxiety of the lab staff. We tried to copy the famous panting of Edvard Munch with these colorful bacteria colonies."

Kids Category

1st Place

"Circle of Life," Kate Lin, Age, 11, created at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory DNA Learning Center, Cold Spring Harbor, NY, United States.

"In this world, it seems like we all live in different places, cities, or countries, but in reality, we all live in the same world with plants, animals, and microorganisms. The houses and buildings symbolize humans, nowadays, we all seem to be inside tall buildings sitting in front of computers all day, not going outside. The flowers represent plant life, the ones that provide us with oxygen and we provide with CO2. The little squiggle on the side stands for the animals and microorganisms, animals are a food source for us, and when they die, their bodies can provide nutrients for the plants that grow in that soil following them."

2nd Place

"The Honey Bee," Manal Faisal Khan, Age 5, created at Peshawar 2.0, Peshawar, Pakistan.

"Manal loves honey bees and so do most kids! They love its shape, colour and of course the most delicious thing out there that it makes for us all - honey! It lives next to flowers and gardens which adds a beautiful context to where they live and also to what Manal sketches in her note book. Honey bees make large colonies and are responsible for pollination which lies at the basis of not just all the food we get but also the very process of evolution. Honey bees also find a special place in medieval books and sacred texts, including the Quran, Bible and Rigveda. Honey bees represent giving and doing good. Manal gets excited whenever she hears about it. Honey bees is only what she could think of when we gave her an agar plate."

3rd Place

"Fall," Lilu Good-Martinez, Age 10, East Lansing, MI, United States.

"microbes living on the surface of leaves at the beginning of the fall season"

What Is 'Agar Art'?

Have you ever seen art created in a petri dish using living, growing microorganisms? That's agar art! Creators use either naturally colorful microbes, like the red bacteria Serratia marcescens, or genetically modified microbes, like the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae transformed with violacein genes, as 'paint' and various types, shapes and sizes of agar as a 'canvas.' In fact, the original agar artist was none other than Alexander Fleming himself!

ASM Agar Art Contest 2018, 1st Place. "The battle of winter and spring," Ana Tsitsishvili, Undergraduate Student, Agricultural University of Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia.

In 2015, ASM launched the ASM Agar Art Contest to share the beautiful and diverse world of microbes with the public. Submissions from past years of the contest have been featured worldwide: 

Questions? Contact

How to Create Agar Art: Video Tutorial

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.


Read More About Agar Art

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