Agar plate art

Ah yes, two of my most very favourite things: microbiology and art. Well, apart from the art. But still – this has a more than tenuous link to The Best Science In The World™, and it’s quite pretty too.

It’s art, made by microbiologists, using bacteria and fungi grown on agar plates – the sort of thing you see in a darkened lab in CSI series. Utilising the fact that different bugs grow in different colours on different sorts of plates, it’s not too hard to design a masterpiece – the only problem is that you can’t see what you’re designing while you design it – you have to wait 24 hours (probably at 37ºC) for the results to appear. So delayed art, then.


Here’s a Salmonella and Shigella butterfly on a sunflower. The black of the butterfly has been generated by the Salmonella spp. producing hydrogen sulphide.

And here’s a five plate recreation of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, courtesy of a gutload of Proteus mirabilis, Acinetobacter baumanii, Enterococcus faecalis and Klebsiella pneumonia. Eww.


I have done this before, although not to this kind of standard, I’ll admit. But as a junior in the lab in Oxford, we used to design Christmas tree plate art using Serratia marscescensPseudomonas aeruginosa and Rhodococcus equi as a seasonal greeting for the staff working the Xmas shift the following morning. Depending on who was working that shift, there was always the temptation to use far more dangerous bugs, but professionalism generally prevailed and no-one was permanently injured, as far as I recall anyway.

See more examples of plate art here.

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