ASM Agar Art Contest: 2015 Winners

Shown below are winning entries from our very first Agar Art Contest! We received 85 submissions from participants in 15 different countries.

Browse the winning images and read the stories behind the art. To see all the finalists, visit our Facebook page.

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First Place

Agar Art - Neurons.


Second Place

Agar Art - NYC Biome Map.

"NYC Biome Map"

Third Place

Agar Art - Harvest Season.

"Harvest Season"

People's Choice

Agar Art - Cell to Cell.

"Cell to Cell"

First Place: 'Neurons'


Neurons and biological shapes is a common theme in the works of the artist Maria Penil. Here she painted with yellow Nesterenkonia, orange Deinococcus and Sphingomonas isolated for their attractive colors as contaminants in the Berkmen lab. After growing the plates for 2 days at 30oC, the artist usually lets the plate sit for few more days before permanently sealing the work in epoxy.

Mehmet Berkmen, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, New England Biolabs, Ipswich, Mass.; Maria Peñil Cobo, Mixed Media Artist, Beverly, Mass.

Second Place: 'NYC Biome Map'

Agar Art, 'NYC Biome Map'

Microorganisms reside everywhere, yet they are too small to be seen with the human eye. New York City (NYC) is a melting pot of cultures—both human and microbial—and every citizen has a personalized microbiome. Collectively, we shape NYC's microbiome by our lifestyle choices, and this unseen microbial world significantly impacts us.

The Urban Biome Map is a collaborative project between citizen scientists and artists, aiming to make the invisible visible and to raise awareness for the urban microbiome to the general public in a fun hands-on activity.

We invited the public to learn about microbes by creating a city map using harmless Escherichia coli K12 bacteria engineered with colorful fluorescent proteins like GFP, RFP or YFP as paint. More than 50 participants applied bacterial suspension cultures onto square petri plates containing standard LB selection media. The plates were prepared with stencils of NYC's street grid, allowing participants to paint the bacteria into the patterns. After a short incubation time, participants returned to print the grown colonies on paper. The bacterial prints were reassembled into the map of NYC, blending the individual prints into a collective artwork and creating an everlasting microbial map of NYC.

"NYC Biome Map"
Christine Marizzi, Ph.D., Ali Schachtschneider, Marta Molena Gomez, The New Museum IDEAS CITY 2015, Genspace NYC, The DNA Learning Center (DNALC), Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), New York, N.Y.

Third Place: 'Harvest Season'

Agar Art, 'Harvest Season'

Saccharomyces cerevisiae is a species of yeast. It is the active agent responsible for our most basic foods—bread, wine, and beer—since ancient civilizations. It has been long since humans have tried to understand how to make them more productive. However, it was not until the Genomic Era that this organism has been thoroughly studied, leading us to the "Harvest Season" of Yeast knowledge, now. This is one of the most intensively studied eukaryotic model organisms in molecular and cell biology, much like Escherichia coli as the model bacterium. Many proteins important in human biology were first discovered by studying their homologs in yeast; these proteins include cell cycle proteins, signaling proteins, and protein-processing.

The organisms used for this piece of art were metabolically engineered on the b-carotene pathway, resulting in a color palette of colonies of our choice, from yellow to red. The painting depicts a humble farmhouse with the wheat production laced in the country yard. Amazed by the plasticity of this organism for engineering during the Yeast Genetics & Genomics Summer Course at CSHL, I got inspired to paint this agar with the message: "Look at the Yeast field, for they are already white for harvest!"

"Harvest Season"
Maria Eugenia Inda, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Researcher, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New York, N.Y.

People's Choice: 'Cell to Cell'

Agar Art, 'Cell to Cell'

This work by the artist Maria Penil brings the communicative microscopic world to our macroscopic visual delight. In what appears to be a red Serratia cell communicating with a yellow Nesterenkonia, fine tendrils of orange Deinococcus and Sphingomonas reach out for each other as if to say "Now this is what I call a winner of the Agar Art Competition."

"Cell to Cell"
Mehmet Berkmen, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, New England Biolabs, Ipswich, Mass.; Maria Peñil Cobo, Mixed Media Artist, Beverly, Mass.