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Scientists 'paint' with bacteria, create microbial masterpieces

Scientists 'paint' with bacteria, create microbial masterpieces
Posted at 4:54 PM, May 04, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-08 03:15:53-04

(RNN) - Rembrandt worked in oils, Georgia O’Keefe favored watercolors, Andy Warhol was an acrylics aficionado.

And some scientists make their masterpiece in microbes.

The 2017 Agar Art contest boasts more than 200 entries from 36 countries. The artists paint on a gelatinous canvas with a variety of bacteria to create colorful flights of the imagination – some of which glow in the dark.

Beat that, Picasso.

“The contest started out as a way to get our members to show how cool microbes can be,” said Katherine Lontoc, who is the outreach manager for the contest sponsor, the American Society of Microbiology, which has 50,000 members in every corner of the globe.

[To see more of the 2017 entries visit the American Society of Microbiology Facebook page. You can even vote for your favorite.]

Over the past three years, the number of entries has grown. Some microbiologists have partnered with designers to enhance their work, and the Society's social media exploded with shares and likes.

You have to really know what you’re doing to create one of these works. You have to know what color certain bacteria are under which conditions; bacteria grow at different speeds, so you have to plan that out; and of course, some of them can kill you.

But the point of the contest is to convince people that not all microbes are scary. Many are awesome, beautiful, beneficial and the same color as President Donald Trump’s hair – so you can paint a presidential portrait on sterilized glass.

The reaction they’re going for is the “Oh, wow!” effect, Lontoc said.

“We want people to say, ‘I had no idea,’” she said. “These organisms are so different from each other and can be used in this way to make something beautiful. Micro-organisms aren’t all scary, they don’t all cause diseases. They are integral parts of the environment.

“Art highlights that.”

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