ASM Announces 2021 Agar Art Contest Winners

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) announces the winners of their 7th annual Agar Art Contest, which drew 300 submissions from participants of all ages located in 31 countries. 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.

“Traditional” agar art consists of living, growing microbes ‘painted’ on agar, a gelatin-like substance that serves as food for the microorganisms. Artists were also invited to submit entries using any artistic medium to illustrate the theme “Microbes are Beautiful” in the “Open” category.

Traditional (Professional) Category:

  • First place was awarded to “Microlilies” by Sonja Borndörfer, Norbert W. Hopf and Michael Lanzinger from the University of Applied Sciences Weihenstephan-Triesdorf in Freising, Germany. Depicting a cluster of waterlilies blooming on clear lakes, the work features orange Rhodococcus rhodochrous bacterium and white Geotrichum candidum mildew growing on green Micrococcus luteus bacteria.
Microlilies

  • The second place prize went to Marlene Luengas Bautista and Yanet Tovar from the Instituto Nacional de Pediatria in Mexico City, Mexico for “Guayacan Feathers.” The artists used 7 different yeast strains as “paint,” to illustrate the sacred Quetzal bird, considered a symbol of abundance, fertility and power by the Mayans, resting on a Guayacan tree.
  • Mireya Duran from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, Texas earned third prize for “Fiesta Flamenca.” “As a flamenco dancer myself, I wanted to use my passion for agar art to pay tribute to one of my other passions,” explained Duran. To create her artwork, Duran used 7 different microbes grown on a mix of 3 separate types of agar over the course of 48 hours.
  • The winner of the People’s Choice award, as voted on by visitors to ASM’s Flickr page, is “Tree, Lungs of the Planet” by Litzy Amairany Arroyo Aranda, Juan Carlos Elizalde and David Rangel Castro from the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla in Puebla, Mexico. Featuring Salmonella spp. grown on Brilliant Green Agar, this piece links trees and lungs as producers of oxygen.

Traditional (Non-Professional) Category:

  • First place was awarded to “The Lowly Snail – A Mighty Tale of Resilience” by Joanne Touchberry from the North Carolina State Laboratory of Public Health in Raleigh, North Carolina. Touchberry, who used various yeast species grown on CHROMagar Candida agar to depict a snail, explained, “Microbes are amazingly resilient! Here’s to hoping the same for humankind!”
The Lowly Snail - A Mighty Tale of Resilience
The Lowly Snail – A Mighty Tale of Resilience

  • Second place was awarded to “A Kaleidoscope of Butterflies- Monarchs Are our Friends Part 2” by Marcia Murakami, Judy Nguyen, Shawn Sato, Frank Tran and Kim Xiong from the Monarch Butterfly Friends Hawaii. Inspired by the Hawaiian Monarch butterfly, the work depicting the butterfly life cycle symbolizes hope and transformation. The artists created their design online using BioArtBot.org, and the works were printed with a liquid-handling robot at Counter Culture Labs using 5 separate strains of E. coli grown on an agar plate.
  • Butterflies also served as the inspiration the third place winner “Butterfly Garden” by Liliana Flores and Rebecca Wall from North Carolina State Laboratory of Public Health in Raleigh, North Carolina. Their work features Salmonella enterica, E. coli and Shigella flexneri grown on Xylose Lysine Deoxycholate Agar and Brilliant Green Agar. Wall and Flores were inspired by the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies (the state butterfly of North Carolina). “Their bright yellow color is a wonderful surprise when spotted in your garden!” the artists said.
  • The People’s Choice award went to “Couple of Lord Krishna and Radha on Peacock Feather” by Basanti Dalai and Rahul Kumar Banerjee from Balco Medical Center Raipur in Chhattishgarh, India. This work features Escherichia coli, Enterococcus faecalis, and Micrococcus spesis grown on HiCrome UTI Agar.

Traditional (Kids) Category:

  • First place was awarded to “A Kaleidoscope of Butterflies- Monarchs Are our Friends Part 1” by Ayah Ali, Yara Ali, Emilia Heng, Hannah Xiong and Samuel Xiong from the Monarch Butterfly Friends Hawaii. The group of children, ages 2-9 years old, designed this piece to “represent the wonder they feel when they see butterflies and nature,” according to Judy Nguyen, administrator for the Monarch Butterfly Friends Hawaii.
 A Kaleidoscope of Butterflies- Monarchs Are our Friends Part 1
A Kaleidoscope of Butterflies- Monarchs Are our Friends Part 1

  • Will Post from Hillside Elementary School in Montclair, New Jersey earned second place for “A Sunny Day at the Beach.” “I used bacteria that I collected from 4 spaces: my hand, my desk, my tongue and some yeast,” Post shared.

Open (General) Category:

  • Natascha Varona from the University of Miami in Miami, Florida earned first place for “Ocean’s Glow” using acrylic paint and liquid Fluorescent Tempera paint on canvas. “Through this painting, I hope to share the feeling of being immersed in this microscopic universe while conceptualizing fluorescence microscopy,” said Varona.
Ocean's Glow
Ocean’s Glow

  • “Ode to Kate Rubins” by Sarah Adkins-Jablonsky from the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine in Birmingham, Alabama, took second place. “I was inspired by an ASM talk by Kate Rubins, who was the first person to sequence DNA in space and do remarkable microbiology experiments,” said Adkins-Jablonsky. The work is a digital illustration using old Petri dishes containing soil bacteria, Strepyomyces, and ink in liquid media on agar.
  • The third place prize went to “A Microbial Aquarium,” a video project from Yujia Feng from the University of Toronto in Toronto, Canada. “I decided to combine my knowledge from my Intro to Microbiology course and apply it to this piece, focusing mostly on marine microbes because I’ve always found it cool to imagine if bacteria were the size of whales,” explained Feng.
  • The People’s Choice Award was awarded to Didem Rodoplu, He Cheng Kun, Cherng-Shyang Chang Cheng Yuan Kao and Chia-Hsien Hsu from the National Health Research Institutes in Zhunan, Taiwan for “Christmas Tree.” Bacteria solutions (Escherichia coli K-12, Escherichia coli DH5alpha, and Escherichia coli GFP) were injected into a polystyrene microfluidic device and allowed to diffuse and grow on the agar surface.

Open (Kids) Category:

  • The first place winner was “Microbe Monsters” by 6-year-old Lin Xinyu from PCF Sparkletots Tampines North 492 in Singapore. “In my art piece, I drew angry microbe monsters to represent microbes that are harmful and friendly microbe monsters to represent microbes that are useful,” explained Xinyu.
Microbe Monsters
Microbe Monsters
  • Six-year-old Aziliz Pernet from Richland Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles, California earned both second and third place. Pernet’s “Corona vs. Antibody” was a drawing made with crayon and markers depicting antibodies as little superheroes attacking the evil coronavirus and helping to save the human cells. The third place award went to Pernet’s “Greetings from the Inside of a Piece of Blue Cheese,” a drawing of little creatures saying “hi” from the inside of a piece of blue cheese.

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