2018 ASM Agar Art Contest

Professional Category

1st Place

"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."

2nd Place

"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 agar art 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."

3rd Place

"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."

People's Choice

"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."

Maker Category

1st Place

"Serratia octopus," Tiare Ribeaux, Patrik D'haeseleer, created at Counter Culture Labs in Oakland, CA, United States.

"Vibrant and vigorous Serratia marcescens is always a favorite of the agar art aficionados. This bacterium changes color depending on its environment, and age of the culture. Here it's in vibrant orange with a dark red fringe and purple halo. On soft agar, its tentacles will swarm all across the plate - rather like the octopus of the microbial world..."

2nd Place

"The Sitting President," Daniel Pham, created at the Baltimore Underground Science Space (BUGSS) in Baltimore, MD, United States.

"Barack Obama's presidential campaign inspired me to become involved in my community. While in graduate school, I was a passionate advocate for scientists, science outreach, and science communication. Now I continue this work as a science policy advocate with ASBMB. This agar art depicts President Obama's official portrait, so different from his predecessors in so many ways. This work represents my passion for art, science, advocacy, and hope that any "skinny kid with a funny name" can inspire so much change."

3rd Place

“A Bumble Bee, Bacteria, and Mold: Could this be art in the making?,” Allison Granberry, created at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory DNA Learning Center in Cold Spring Harbor, NY, United States.

"A Q-tip filled with green Transgenic E.coli slid across the plastic cutout of a bumblebee. It looked rather unspectacular in that moment---little bit of plastic, black agar, and a clear liquid filled with bacteria. Four days later it exploded with color and life—literally! This activity was really about inviting my colleague and two of our high school students to participate in something all together different. Since I teach high school biology and have used agar plates to grow bacteria this was, for me, more of an interest to see how the non-science individual would react to bacteria a an artistic medium."

Kids Category

1st Place

"The Magnificent Butterfly," Kate Lin, Age 10, created at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory DNA Learning Center, Cold Spring Harbor, NY, United States.

"One day there were two people on a safari. As they walked through the tall African grasses they came upon an area that was so thick and tall that the two travelers immediately knew they had to go around the area. Suddenly a magnificent butterfly flew out of the tall grasses and seemed to take a look around, once it spotted the two travelers, it quickly dove back into the grass."

2nd Place

“Blue Tulip,” Simran Bhattacharya, Age 11, created at TheLab Inc. in Los Angeles, CA, United States.

"Blue Tulip in a field of daisies."


3rd Place

“Ocean and Windy Breeze,” Alice Laun, Age 5, created at the Baltimore Underground Science Space (BUGSS) in Baltimore, MD, United States.

"These are kids playing on the beach. One is surfing, one is sitting on the sand, and one is swimming. They are all friends and they flew a plane to get to the beach. The blue is the ocean, the pink is the sun going down - the sun set, and the yellow is the sand, the little bit of black is just like the moon."

2017 ASM Agar Art Contest

1st Place

"Sunset at the End," Jasmine Temple, Laboratory Technician, Jef Boeke, Michael Shen, Leslie Mitchell, New York University Lagone Medical Center, Institute for Systems Genetics, New York, NY, United States.

"This image of a sunset in Montauk (The End), New York, was created by "printing" nanodroplets of media containing baker's yeast with pigment-encoding plasmids (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) onto a large agar plate (12cm by 8cm). Each dot is a separate yeast colony. The image is printed pixel by pixel, generating a composite image which we term "biopointillism". The colonies grow to create the image and the pigments slowly develop over days or weeks. The different colored yeast strains were constructed by genetically engineering the yeast to produce pigments naturally made by bacteria, fungi, coral and anemones. This method allows for up to 24,576 biopixels per image, yielding intricate designs and details. Using genes from other organisms to make biological compounds paves the way toward harnessing yeast in the production of other useful molecules, from food to fuels and drugs."

2nd Place

"Finding Pneumo: starring Klebsiella pneumoniae," Andrew Simor, Linh Ngo, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, Canada.

"Coral reefs are underwater ecosystems that host an array of organisms. A diversity of bacterial communities can be found in corals, but trying to identify these bacteria have been hampered due to their large numbers. These bacteria help the coral by providing nutrients and producing antimicrobial agents against infections caused by potential pathogens. 

We chose CLED agar as our canvas to mimic water. Serratia marcescens was used for our purple sea fans and Caulerpa. S. marcescens is not only an opportunistic pathogen in humans, but also causes “white pox” in Elkhorn coral. Staphylococcus aureus was used for our brain coral, a pathogen that causes a wide range of infections (e.g., abscesses, endocarditis) and can be found in contaminated water.  The white coral are Candida tropicalis that illustrate coral bleaching that has become more prevalent due to climate change.  

Klebsiella pneumoniae is a commonly isolated pathogen in healthy and immunocompromised hosts but ubiquitous in the environment. Plasmids carrying multi-drug resistance genes, and hypervirulent strains causing serious, life-threatening infections are being increasingly recognized. Within this picture there is a mucoid bacilli that is strategically placed within one of the plates. Can you find it?"

3rd Place

"Dancing Microbes," Ana Tsitsishvili, Undergraduate Student, Agricultural University of Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia.

"For this painting I used microbes and fungi on Brain-Heart infusion agar. The white color, which is on the face and the dress of the girl and the boy, is Staphylococcus epidermidis.It is a part of the normal human flora, typically, the skin flora, Iisolated them from my own skin. The pink color of the girl’s dress and the tree flowers is by made of the Rhodotorula mucilaginosa, it’s a common environmental inhabitant. It can be isolated  from soil,  milk, and air samples. I have got it from air. Rhodotorula can cause disease  in immunosuppressed people. The yellow color of the lady’s hair is Micrococcus luteus, it is urease and catalase positive. An obligate aerobic microbe, M. luteus is found in soil, water, air and as part of the normal flora of the mammalian skin. The green is Xanthomonas axonopodis. Xanthomonas are exclusively pathogenic to a large group of plants, such as citrus trees, cotton, beans, and grapes. I got the other colors by doing the following: first of all I put Rhodotorula mucilaginosa on petri dish and waited until it grew. Then I added Micrococcus luteus and in the end - Staphylococcus epidermidis, since it grows faster than other microbes and fungi."

People's Choice

"Potrait of Hon. Dr. G. M. Warke, CEO & Founder of HiMedia Labs. Pvt. Ltd., INDIA.," Girish Mahajan, Vice President, Yogita Pankaj Phalke, HiMedia Laboratories Pvt. Ltd., Mumbai, India.

"We have used chromogenic media (HiCrome M1353). The Streptococcus faecalis breaks down the chromogenic substrate, specifically and the blue-colored chromophore is liberated. This blue color is imparted to the colony & slightly diffuses. This creates a shade of blue on the light colored background of the medium, the colonies are very distinctly visible."

2016 ASM Agar Art Contest

1st Place

"The first race," Md Zohorul Islam, Graduate Student, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.

"Fertilization is the first competitive event of plants and animal life. It is a process involving the fusion of male and female gametes to form a zygote. Millions of spermatozoa race and compete to be the first to penetrate the egg, but only one of them finally meet the egg and create zygote leading to the development of embryo. 

In this artwork, I used four bacteria as paint and a selective agar medium as canvas. The red colored paint was Staphylococcus aureus, which is an opportunistic pathogen in both humans and animals. The green color was Staphylococcus xylosus, is a commensal organism in human skin, and the white was Staphylococcus hyicus, an animal pathogen responsible for grassy pig disease. The yellow colored organism was Corynebacterium glutamicum, a non-pathogenic but industrially important bacterium for production of amino acids such as L-glutamate and L-lysine. Other colors were from mixture of two or more of these four organisms."

2nd Place

"This is not a beer!," Mariarosaria Marinaro, Erika Grandolfo, Cristiana Catella, Livia Bodnar, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy.

"Some Staphylococcus aureus bacteria are referred to as MRSA  since they are resistant to methicillin and other antibiotics. These “superbugs” are real threats to human and animal health. Staphylococci possess an enzyme, called catalase, which converts hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen. In particular, the MRSA isolated in our lab was grown on agar and then treated with hydrogen peroxide to produce a foam (i.e., oxygen production). The catalase-positive MRSA was therefore used to evoke a beer through its image. Our piece of Agar Art  took inspiration from the scientist and philosopher Alfred Korzybski (“The map is not the territory it represents”, 1931) and from the surrealist painter René Magritte who drew a pipe with the caption Ceci n’est pas une pipe meaning that  the image of the pipe is not a pipe (The Treachery of Images, 1928-1929). The work presented here stems from a simple catalase reaction; nonetheless it expands Korzybski’s and Magritte’s work to the bacterial world. It also represents our attempt to reach a synthesis between Science and Abstraction, Metalanguage and Microbiology.  The Agar Art plate was prepared during a Microbiology Class addressed to High School Students  from Liceo Enrico Fermi and Liceo Gaetano Salvemini, Bari, Italy."

3rd Place

"Twelve Years of Yuck," Laura Bryan, Sara Lawhon, Sara V. Little, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, United States.

"Microbial pathogens were painted with Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium and Escherichia coli MG1655 on Hektoen enteric agar to yield black and yellow colonies, respectively. Salmonella spp. produce hydrogen sulfide which precipitates thiosulfate and ferric ammonium citrate in plates. E. coli ferments sugars and acidifies the agar, causing the yellow color change. Salmonella spp. and E. coli are enteric pathogens, although they can be a part of normal microflora in some species. Microbes are often in balance with their environment and other pathogens, but to everything there is a season and outbreaks occur every year. We designed a 12-year calendar which represents significant human outbreaks that occurred from 2005-2016. Although pathogenic, some of the depicted organisms can be beneficial for humans. For example, Salmonella spp. have the potential to be used as new treatments for some cancers and E. coli produces vitamins K and B6 in the intestine of mammals. Thus this work represents the delicate balance of microbes, their hosts and the environment."

People's Choice

"Bacterial Shadow of Wolf," Barış Halaç, Graduate Student, Sevgin Can, M. Cemal Adiguzel, Nilufer Erzaim, Istanbul University Veterinary Faculty Department of Microbiology, Istabul, Turkey.

"Bacteria can produce biofilm formation when they under threat like hostile immune system in order to protect themselves  from harmful conditions. When it happens, a differentiation  of the gene regulation reflects as a change in behaviour. To this end, individuals must behave not only for their but also the group’s benefits . Some members of the company don’t make an effort for the construction of biofilm but they still bask protection of it.
This strategy seen in wolves that hunt together. When the game begins, some wolves are more active to get the prey and take more risks whereas the others spend less energy but at the end, all members of pack shares the food."

2015 ASM Agar Art Contest

1st Place

"Neurons," Mehmet Berkmen, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, New England Biolabs, Ipswich, MA, United States, Maria Peñil Cobo, Mixed Media Artist, Beverly, MA, United States.

"Neurons and biological shapes is a common theme in the works of the artist Maria Penil. Here she painted with yellow Nesterenkonia, orange Deinococcus and Sphingomonas isolated for their attractive colors as contaminants in the Berkmen lab. After growing the plates for 2 days at 30oC, the artist usually lets the plate sit for few more days before permanently sealing the work in epoxy."

2nd Place

"NYC Biome Map," Nurit Bar-Shai, Christine Marizzi, Ph.D., Ali Schachtschneider, Marta Molena Gomez, The New Museum IDEAS CITY 2015, Genspace NYC, The DNA Learning Center (DNALC), Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), New York, NY, United States.

"Microorganisms reside everywhere, yet they are too small to be seen with the human eye. New York City (NYC) is a melting pot of cultures - both human and microbial - and every citizen has a personalized microbiome. Collectively, we shape NYC’s microbiome by our lifestyle choices, and this unseen microbial world significantly impacts us. 

The Urban Biome Map is a collaborative project between citizen scientists and artists, aiming to make the invisible visible and to raise awareness for the urban microbiome to the general public in a fun hands-on activity. 

We invited the public to learn about microbes by creating a city map using harmless Escherichia coli K12 bacteria engineered with colorful fluorescent proteins like GFP, RFP or YFP as paint. More than fifty participants applied bacterial suspension cultures onto square petri plates containing standard LB selection media. The plates were prepared with stencils of NYC’s street grid, allowing participants to paint the bacteria into the patterns. After a short incubation time, participants returned to print the grown colonies on paper. The bacterial prints were reassembled into the map of NYC, blending the individual prints into a collective artwork and creating an everlasting microbial map of NYC."

3rd Place

"Harvest Season," Maria Eugenia Inda, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Researcher, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New York, NY, United States.

"Saccharomyces cerevisiae is a species of yeast. It is the active agent responsible for our most basic foods - bread, wine, and beer since ancient civilizations. It has been long since humans have tried to understand how to make them more productive. However, it was not until the Genomic Era that this organism has been thoroughly studied, leading us to the “Harvest Season” of Yeast knowledge, now. This is one of the most intensively studied eukaryotic model organisms in molecular and cell biology, much like Escherichia coli as the model bacterium. Many proteins important in human biology were first discovered by studying their homologs in yeast; these proteins include cell cycle proteins, signaling proteins, and protein-processing. The organism used for this piece of art were metabolically engineered on the b-carotene pathway, resulting in a color palette of colonies of our choice, from yellow to red. The painting depicts a humble farmhouse with the wheat production laced in the countryyard.  Amazed by the plasticity of this organism for engineering during the Yeast Genetics & Genomics Summer Course at CSHL I got inspired to paint this agar with the message: “Look at the Yeast field, for they are already white for harvest!”."

People's Choice

"Cell to Cell," Mehmet Berkmen, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, New England Biolabs, Ipswich, MA, United States, Maria Peñil Cobo, Mixed Media Artist, Beverly, MA, United States.

"This work by the artist Maria Penil brings the communicative microscopic world to our macroscopic visual delight. In what appears to be a red Serratia cell communicating with a yellow Nesterenkonia, fine tendrils of orange Deinococcus and Sphingomonas reach out for each other as if to say "now this is what I call a winner of Agar Art Competition"."

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