ASM Agar Art Contest: 2016 Winners

This year, we asked our agar artists to "Plate a Little Culture" and create their masterpieces. We received 117 submissions from participants in 26 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 - The First Race.

"The First Race"

Second Place

Agar Art - This Is Not a Beer.

"This Is Not a Beer"

Third Place

Agar Art - Twelve Years of Yuck.

"Twelve Years of Yuck"

People's Choice

Agar Art - Bacterial Shadow of Wolf.

"Bacterial Shadow of Wolf"

First Place: 'The First Race'

Agar Art, 'The First Race'

Fertilization is the first competitive event of plants and animal life. It is a process involving the fusion of male and female gametes to form a zygote. Millions of spermatozoa race and compete to be the first to penetrate the egg, but only one of them finally meets the egg and creates a zygote leading to the development of an embryo.

In this artwork, I used 4 bacteria as paint and a selective agar medium as canvas. The red-colored paint was Staphylococcus aureus, which is an opportunistic pathogen in both humans and animals. The green color was Staphylococcus xylosus, a commensal organism in human skin, and the white was Staphylococcus hyicus, an animal pathogen responsible for grassy pig disease. The yellow-colored organism was Corynebacterium glutamicum, a non-pathogenic but industrially important bacterium for production of amino acids such as L-glutamate and L-lysine. Other colors were from a mixture of 2 or more of these 4 organisms.

"The First Race"
By Md Zohorul Islam, Graduate Student, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Second Place: 'This Is Not a Beer'

Agar Art, 'This Is Not A Beer'

Some Staphylococcus aureus bacteria are referred to as MRSA since they are resistant to methicillin and other antibiotics. These "superbugs" are real threats to human and animal health. Staphylococci possess an enzyme, called catalase, which converts hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen. In particular, the MRSA isolated in our lab was grown on agar and then treated with hydrogen peroxide to produce a foam (i.e., oxygen production). The catalase-positive MRSA was therefore used to evoke a beer through its image.

Our piece of Agar Art took inspiration from the scientist and philosopher Alfred Korzybski ("The map is not the territory it represents," 1931) and from the surrealist painter René Magritte, who drew a pipe with the caption "Ceci n’est pas une pipe," meaning that the image of the pipe is not a pipe (The Treachery of Images, 1928-1929). The work presented here stems from a simple catalase reaction; nonetheless it expands Korzybski's and Magritte's work to the bacterial world. It also represents our attempt to reach a synthesis between Science and Abstraction, Metalanguage and Microbiology. The Agar Art plate was prepared during a Microbiology Class addressed to High School Students from Liceo Enrico Fermi and Liceo Gaetano Salvemini, Bari, Italy.

"This Is Not a Beer!"
By Mariarosaria Marinaro, Erika Grandolfo, Cristiana Catella, Livia Bodnar, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Rome, Italy.

Third Place: 'Twelve Years of Yuck'

Agar Art, 'Twelve Years of Yuck'

Microbial pathogens were painted with Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium and Escherichia coli MG1655 on Hektoen enteric agar to yield black and yellow colonies, respectively. Salmonella spp. produce hydrogen sulfide which precipitates thiosulfate and ferric ammonium citrate in plates. E. coli ferments sugars and acidifies the agar, causing the yellow color change. Salmonella spp. and E. coli are enteric pathogens, although they can be a part of normal microflora in some species. Microbes are often in balance with their environment and other pathogens, but to everything there is a season and outbreaks occur every year. We designed a 12-year calendar which represents significant human outbreaks that occurred from 2005-2016. Although pathogenic, some of the depicted organisms can be beneficial for humans. For example, Salmonella spp. have the potential to be used as new treatments for some cancers and E. coli produces vitamins K and B6 in the intestine of mammals. Thus this work represents the delicate balance of microbes, their hosts and the environment.

"Twelve Years of Yuck"
By Laura Bryan, Sara Lawhon, Sara V. Little, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas.

People's Choice: 'Bacterial Shadow of Wolf'

Agar Art, 'Bacterial Shadow of Wolf'

Bacteria can produce biofilm formation when they under threat like hostile immune system in order to protect themselves from harmful conditions. When it happens, a differentiation of the gene regulation reflects as a change in behaviour. To this end, individuals must behave not only for their but also the group's benefits. Some members of the company don't make an effort for the construction of biofilm, but they still bask in the protection of it.

This strategy is seen in wolves that hunt together. When the game begins, some wolves are more active to get the prey and take more risks, whereas the others spend less energy but at the end, all members of the pack share the food.

"Bacterial Shadow of Wolf"
By Barış Halaç, Graduate Student, Sevgin Can, M. Cemal Adiguzel, Nilufer Erzaim, Istanbul University Veterinary Faculty, Department of Microbiology, Istanbul, Turkey.