Anything that can be created can become an art medium. That includes microbes in a petri dish. And therefore, since people will make a competition out of anything, we have the American Society for Microbiology Agar Art Contest. Scientists take a dish of agar, a nutritious gel made from seaweed, and add invisible germs of different types to just the right spot. When the microbes divide and proliferate, a colorful scene is formed -if the artist knows what they are doing.
Despite its growing popularity over the past five years, microbial art isn’t a recent fad. Alexander Fleming, who discovered the antibiotic properties of penicillin on an agar plate in 1928, created images using live organisms. Yet, this genre of scientific art didn’t gather much attention from researchers until the last decade, when the American Society of Microbiology brought agar art into the spotlight in 2015 with an annual contest.
Learn how agar art is done, and see more works from the contest, at Smithsonian.
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