Amidst A Global Pandemic, Agar Art Contest Proves Microbes Still Represent Beauty

The American Society for Microbiology announces the winners of their 6th annual Agar Art Contest. Submissions of artwork were created using living, growing microbes ‘painted’ on agar, a gelatin-like substance that serves as food for the microorganisms. This year, submissions were also accepted in a new “open” category, in which participants could illustrate the beauty of microbes using any art form. ASM’s Agar Art Contest began in 2015 and merges science with art to engage the public with microbiology and highlight the beauty and diversity of the microbial world.

“This year, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that many people don’t have their usual access to labs, we decided to create a new ‘open’ category,” said Geoff Hunt, Ph. D., Public Outreach Specialist at the American Society for Microbiology, who organizes the contest. “Based on the amazingly creative submissions we got, this category will definitely be a part of the contest in future years!”

The Gardener

A panel of scientists and bioartists judged 189 entries (including videos, songs, and even a hand-made shirt) from 203 artists in 29 different countries and 27 U.S. states. The judges assessed entries based on their creativity, artistry of design, the scientific accuracy of their description, and their accessibility to a general audience.

“The Gardener”, created by Joanne Dungo from Northridge Hospital Medical Center in Northridge, CA, took 1st place in the contest. “A colleague of mine once said that a microbiologist is like a gardener. Just like a gardener uses seeds, soil, and water to grow flowers and plants, a microbiologist uses microorganisms, like bacteria and yeast, to grow them in nutrient-filled agar petri dishes, ” said Joanne.

Microbial Peacock

“Microbial Peacock” won 2nd place. It was created by Balaram Khamari from the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, Puttaparthi, India. “Peacock is the national bird of India. It represents regality, beauty, prosperity, harmony, and optimism. Various traditional art forms in India are inspired by the magnificent symmetric arrangement of the peacock’s plumage and its flexible neck. An integration of these traditional art forms with agar art is being presented through this “Microbial peacock,'” said Balaram. It was created with Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Enterococcus faecalis.

3rd place

The 3rd place winner is “Micro-Nature in a spotted eagle ray,” created by by Isabel Araque and Jenny Onate from Quito, Ecuador. “In the Galapagos Islands near a little country named Ecuador, a blue and green pastel color like Candida Chromogenic sea, hides a spotted eagle ray. This gorgeous creature swims in total freedom and softly glides across the water. Its body is painted in blue C. tropicalis and green C. albicans which make a splashed pattern of colorfully bright green spots,” the creators explained.

Beauty and the Beast

“LOBO,” by Christian Gabriel Austria Lucas from the Institute of Technical Education in Singapore, won the People’s Choice award. “This piece is a memorable to me because the wolf represents my girlfriend. Her last name is “lubo” which sounds like “lobo”, meaning “wolf” in the Filipino language. I made this because each time I see a wolf I remember every moment we spent together. The full moon represents the distance and nights we have wait before we can see each other again,” said Christian. It was created with Staphylococcus aureus grown on Baird Parker agar.

“I love my microbiome,” (left) by Ariana Gestal-Gurr from Shreveport, Louisiana, won 1st place in the kids contest. It was created with nasal microbiota on LB agar with the goal of demonstrating to kids what they have in their noses. “Dinosaur at Sunset,” (right) by Aziliz C Pernet, won 2nd place. It was created with Serratia marcescens (red) and Micrococcus luteus (yellow) on Tryptic Soy Agar by 5 year old Aziliz. This is her very first streak plate, depicting a dinosaur staring at an orange sky at sunset.

“Open” Category Winners:

Strands of Antisense

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