ASM contest turns science into art

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In New Orleans, the American Society for Microbiology’s Agar Art contest is giving scientists the opportunity to also become artists.

Using agar plates—petri dishes that contain nutrient—entrants “painted” microbes of different colors to create designs.

Jasmine Temple, a microbiologist, won first place for creating a sunset with tiny drops of pink, blue, and purple baker’s yeast strains. She cited research on pathway assembly in yeast as her guide for creating the different colors, and utilized an acoustic liquid handler to print tiny, pinhead-sized droplets.

Linh Ngo, a microbiology technologist, won second prize for Finding Nemo-inspired design, but in the process of researching the design became aware of the impacts of global warming on coral reefs.  “It started as a project where I could bridge my creative side with my microbiology skills,” she says, “but [it] ended up bringing awareness to the coral reefs.” To mimic the textured look of coral, Ngo used Candida tropicalis, a pathogenic strain of yeast that can cause fungal infections.

Ana Tsitsishvili, an undergraduate student, snagged third with a “romantic fairytale painting” using Staphylococcus epidermidis and Rhodotorula mucilaginosa.