ASM Agar Art Contest: 2018 Winners

In 2018, we opened up the Agar Art Contest wider than ever! In addition to seeking entries from our members and stakeholders, we partnered with community laboratories in 5 different states and invited attendees to enter our new "Maker" category. We also invited children (ages 12 and under) to submit to our new "Kids" category. We received 156 submissions from participants in 21 different countries.

Browse the winning images and read the stories behind the art:

Be sure to check out our Facebook page to see all the finalists.

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Professional Category

Second Place

Agar Art, 'My Yellow Vision'

"My Yellow Vision"

Third Place

Agar Art, 'Sustenance'


People's Choice

Agar Art, 'A Salmonellosis Odyssey'

"A Salmonellosis Odyssey"

Maker Category

Kids Category

Second Place

Agar Art, 'Blue Tulip'

"Blue Tulip"

Third Place

Agar Art, 'Ocean and Windy Breeze'

"Ocean and Windy Breeze"

Professional Category Winners

First Place: 'The Battle of Winter and Spring'

Agar Art, 'Battle of Winter and Spring'

On the picture is shown the battle of 2 microbes, as the battle of 2 seasons. On one side Staphylococcus, white as winter snow and Bacillus mycoides, they grow fast and cover every other microbes, but when they meet beautiful spring flowers, made by Serratia marcescens, they retreat, because antibiotic, produced by Serratia inhibit their growth. They melt, as warmth of the spring melts the snow; on other side of the plate spring wins, flowers of resistant Micrococcus, Rhodotorula and their mix are growing, as after winter always comes the spring and nature awakes.

"The Battle of Winter and Spring"
By Ana Tsitsishvili, Undergraduate Student, Agricultural University of Georgia, Tbilisi, Georgia.

Second Place: 'My Yellow Vision!'


This is my ode to the Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gogh. It has often been speculated that Van Gogh suffered from a condition called Xanthopsia, an extreme vision bias for yellow. It is also told that during his illness he had painted one of the most celebrated masterpieces in yellow, Still Life: Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers. If we were to turn our attention to the microbial world, the color yellow or golden resonates with none other than Staphylococccus aureus. I have used a multidrug resistant Staphylococcus aureus isolate collected from the nasopharynx of a preterm neonate to paint my own version of 'Vase with Sunflowers' in Mannitol salt agar. I definitely want to contribute to the prevention of antimicrobial resistance through research, but, I also hope to increase awareness about antimicrobial resistance among the general population in my country through microbial art. I would like to start by conversing with school-going children using visuals and agar art to convey the ill effects of antibiotic overuse. Once convinced, these children would go back home and convince their families to listen, comprehend and stop the rampant use of over-the-counter antibiotics.

"My Yellow Vision!"
By Bornali Bhattacharjee, Ph.D., Ramanujan Fellow, National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, Kalyani, India.

Third Place: 'Sustenance'

Agar Art, 'Sustenance'

This bacterial agar art was made from 2 petri dishes representing the microbial communication between the mother and the child within her womb, connected by a red string. Microbes were isolated from the artist Maria Peñil, by pressing an agar plate on to her breast. Unidentified pink colonies isolated around the nipple area were used to draw the pink hues around the membrane glands, while recombinant E. coli expressing the violacein biosynthetic pathway were used to draw the dark-violet mammary glands. The yellow hues are Nesterenkonia, the orange placenta is Deinococcus radiodurans while the red embryo and the red nipple is Serratia marcenses. Intriguingly, the white Bacillus at the edges of the womb were isolated from the hand of the 1-year old daughter of the artist, continuing the microbial connection between the mother and the child.

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

People's Choice: 'A Salmonellosis Odyssey'

Agar Art, 'Salmonellosis Odyssey'

Salmonellosis is among the most common foodborne diseases, with millions of human cases occurring worldwide every year. Outbreaks of Salmonella Typhimurium infections in humans are linked to intake of contaminated food products from poultry, cattle and pigs, fresh vegetables and fruits. In order to see these "invisible" microorganisms, scientists use petri dishes with agar media to grow bacteria and see them in a macroscopic way, known as a bacterial colony. In this artwork, María Laura Echarren, a student of my group, used wild type Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium (stars) and genetically modified Salmonella strains expressing a green-fluorescence protein (constellations). The stars were created by plating diluted media onto an agar plate and constellations were print with minidroplets of media. Each dot is a separate bacteria colony, visualized under UV-light. Northern Hemisphere shows: Leo, Pegasus, Ursa Minor. And Southern hemisphere: Orion, Southern Crux, Phoenix. Because we are microscopic in the immensity of the universe, like bacteria are for us, she got inspired to create this micro-universe of Salmonella constellations.

"A Salmonellosis Odyssey"
By María Laura Echarren, Ph.D. Student, Universidad Nacional de Rosario, Instituto de Biología Molecular y Celular de Rosario, Rosario, Argentina.

Maker Category Winners

First Place: 'Serratia Octopus'

Agar Art, 'Serratia Octopus'

Vibrant and vigorous Serratia marcescens is always a favorite of the agar art aficionados. This bacterium changes color depending on its environment, and age of the culture. Here it's in vibrant orange with a dark red fringe and purple halo. On soft agar, its tentacles will swarm all across the plate - rather like the octopus of the microbial world.

"Serratia Octopus"
By Tiare Ribeaux, Patrik D'haeseleer, created at Counter Culture Labs in Oakland, Calif.

Second Place: 'The Sitting President'

Agar Art, 'The Sitting President'

Barack Obama's presidential campaign inspired me to become involved in my community. While in graduate school, I was a passionate advocate for scientists, science outreach, and science communication. Now I continue this work as a science policy advocate with ASBMB. This agar art depicts President Obama's official portrait, so different from his predecessors in so many ways. This work represents my passion for art, science, advocacy, and hope that any "skinny kid with a funny name" can inspire so much change.

"The Sitting President"
By Daniel Pham, created at the Baltimore Underground Science Space (BUGSS) in Baltimore, Md.

Third Place: 'A Bumble Bee, Bacteria, and Mold: Could This Be Art in the Making?'

Agar Art, 'A Bumble Bee, Bacteria, and Mold'

A Q-tip filled with green Transgenic E.coli slid across the plastic cutout of a bumblebee. It looked rather unspectacular in that moment—little bit of plastic, black agar, and a clear liquid filled with bacteria. Four days later it exploded with color and life—literally! This activity was really about inviting my colleague and 2 of our high school students to participate in something altogether different. Since I teach high school biology and have used agar plates to grow bacteria, this was, for me, more of an interest to see how the non-science individual would react to bacteria as an artistic medium.

"A Bumble Bee, Bacteria, and Mold: Could This Be Art in the Making?"
By Allison Granberry, created at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory DNA Learning Center in Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.

Kids Category Winners

First Place: 'The Magnificent Butterfly'

Agar Art, 'Magnificent Butterfly'

One day there were 2 people on a safari. As they walked through the tall African grasses they came upon an area that was so thick and tall that the 2 travelers immediately knew they had to go around the area. Suddenly a magnificent butterfly flew out of the tall grasses and seemed to take a look around, once it spotted the 2 travelers, it quickly dove back into the grass.

"The Magnificent Butterfly"
By Kate Lin, Age 10, created at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory DNA Learning Center, Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.

Second Place: 'Blue Tulip'

Agar Art, 'Blue Tulip'

Blue Tulip in a field of daisies.

"Blue Tulip"
By Simran Bhattacharya, Age 11, created at TheLab Inc. in Los Angeles, Calif.

Third Place: 'Ocean and Windy Breeze'

Agar Art, 'Ocean and Windy Breeze'

These are kids playing on the beach. One is surfing, one is sitting on the sand, and one is swimming. They are all friends and they flew a plane to get to the beach. The blue is the ocean, the pink is the sun going down - the sunset, and the yellow is the sand, the little bit of black is just like the moon.

"Ocean and Windy Breeze"
By Alice Laun, Age 5, created at the Baltimore Underground Science Space (BUGSS) in Baltimore, Md.