The American Society for Microbiology announces the winners of their 5th 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. 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.
“The Agar Art contest has provided a creative outlet for our scientist members for the past 4 years and this year, we decided to open the contest to anyone who wanted to participate. We got amazing works of art from scientists all over the world, demonstrating that scientists absolutely can be creative!” said Katherine Lontok, Ph. D., Public Outreach Manager at the American Society for Microbiology, who organizes the contest.
A panel of scientists and bioartists judged a record-breaking 347 entries from 415 artists in 43 different countries and 22 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.
“Seemingly Simple Elegance,” created by Arwa Hadid, an undergraduate student at Oakland University, won first place in the Professional category. The artwork depicts a Koi fish and a lotus flower using nine different organisms to bring the picture to life.
“My microbiology professor sparked my interest in the contest and gave us the opportunity to participate. I created around 10 different plates in order to perfect the streaking technique and color combinations. With every iteration, we would discuss ways to improve the image. The scenery itself was chosen because I wanted to embody the calm and meditative feeling that I get while plating cultures. To that end, I chose a typically tranquil image of a flower in a fish pond,” said Hadid.
The winner of the People’s Choice Award is “Hungarian Folk Art,” by Zita Pöstényi, Microbiologist at SYNLAB Hungary Ltd, which uses Escherichia coli (pink), Enterococcus faecalis (turquoise) Acinetobacter junii (yellow) Klebsiella pneumoniae (blue) and Citrobacter freundii (lilac).
“Hungarian folk art occupies an important space in the country’s culture: colorful embroidery, pottery, lace produced by craftsmen. These masterpieces can be so colorful and amazing like bacteria on chromogenic agar plates. When I was a child, I attended folk dance classes and it was a great experience when we could put the beautifully embroidered clothes on. I tried to give something back from that feeling through this artwork,” said Pöstényi.
For the second year, ASM also hosted two affiliate contests, Agar Art Maker and Agar Art Kids. The affiliate contests are open to people ages 13 and older who are not professional bioartists or professional life scientists and to those 12 and younger, respectively.
“My Living Portrait,” by Korey Abram, a Digital Media Arts undergraduate student at Prairie View University, Texas, won first place in the Maker category. His piece is a bacterial self-portrait, utilizing both Serratia (red) and Micrococcus (yellow) bacteria.
“My Biology Professor, Dr. Quincy Moore, and Digital Media Arts Professor, Ms. Tracey Moore, decided to collaborate on a student project working with microorganisms to create art. Ms. Moore presented this amazing opportunity to us and encouraged us to submit our completed project into the ASM Agar Art Contest,” said Abram.
Kate Lin, a 7th grade student at HB Thompson Middle School in New York, won first place in the Kids category for her piece “Circle of Life.” She created her agar art piece at a public Agar Art workshop at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory DNA Learning Center in Cold Spring Harbor, NY using Escherichia coli transformed with fluorescent proteins.
“I wanted to draw something that has to do with life and how we are connected to plants, animals, and bacteria. The idea is that we need to live in harmony and need to look at life as a whole, not just as us, but to see how everything is connected,” said Kate.
Second place for the Professional category was a tie between “The Notorious R.B.G. on V.R.B.G.,” (below, left) by Michael Taveirne, Teaching Assistant Professor at North Carolina State University, and “Ablution,” (below, right) by Michael V. Magaogao, Senior Lab Technician at RAK Medical & Health Sciences University, Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates.
“Fu(n)ji-san,” created by Isabel Franco Castillo, a Ph.D. student at Instituto de Ciencia de Materiales de Aragón, Spain, won third place in the Professional category.
“The microbes among us,” by Aradhita Parasrampuria from New York, NY, won second place in the Maker category. Andrea Héjja, from Budapest, Hungary, won third place in the Maker category for her piece “Mondays like these…” (below, right).
“The Honey Bee,” by Manal Faisal Khan, age 5, from Peshawar, Pakistan, won second place in the Kids category. “Fall,” (below, left) by Lilu Good-Martinez, age 10, from East Lansing, MI, won third place in the Kids category.
To view more artwork from ASM’s 2019 Agar Art competition, visit the Facebook album.