ASM Agar Art Contest: 2019 Winners

In its 5th year, the Agar Art Contest had the best year ever! We received a record 347 submissions across our "Professional," "Maker" and "Kids" categories from participants in 43 different countries.

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

To see all the finalists in our Professional category, view this Facebook album.

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Professional Category

Second Place (Tie)

Agar Art, 'The Notorious R.B.G. on V.R.B.G.'

"The Notorious R.B.G. on V.R.B.G."

Second Place (Tie)

Agar Art, 'Ablution'


Third Place

Agar Art, 'Fu(n)ji-san'


People's Choice

Agar Art, 'Hungarian Folk Art'

"Hungarian Folk Art"

Maker Category

First Place

Agar Art, 'My Living Portrait'

"My Living Portrait"

Second Place

Agar Art, 'The Microbes Among Us'

"The Microbes Among Us"

Third Place

Agar Art, 'Mondays Like These'

"Mondays Like These"

Kids Category

First Place

Agar Art, 'Circle of Life'

"Circle of Life"

Second Place

Agar Art, 'The Honey Bee'

"The Honey Bee"

Third Place

Agar Art, 'Fall'


Professional Category Winners

First Place: 'Seemingly Simple Elegance'

Agar art, 'Seemingly Simple Elegance'

On the plate is a simple portrait of a Koi fish with a lotus flower. However, hidden within the lines are 9 different organisms used to bring the picture to life. The lotus flower is made of Micrococcus luteus as a starting point for the center of the flower. Radiating out of it are petals made of Escherichia coli outlined with Staphylococcus saprophyticus to add depth and color to each individual stroke. Surrounding it is a lotus leaf thick like the organism it is made of, Proteus vulgaris. The Koi, on the other hand, is made of Klebsiella pneumoniae, a mucoid and almost metallic organism, the color of which is enhanced with Staphylococcus aureus which outlines each individual scale and gives shape to the body. A subtle orange tinge was given to the fins with Proteus mirabilis while the eyes are a piercing metallic blue haloed with red that is created by Citrobacter freundii. To encompass it all in calm blue water is Enterococcus faecalis.

"Seemingly Simple Elegance"
Arwa Hadid, Undergraduate MLS Student, Oakland University, Rochester Hills, Mich.

Second Place (tie): 'The Notorious R.B.G. on V.R.B.G.'

Agar art, 'The Notorious R.B.G. on V.R.B.G.'

Ruth Bader Ginsburg (R.B.G.) was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. In her 60-year legal career, she tirelessly fought for women's rights and gender equality. From her humble upbringing in Brooklyn, New York, to breaking down barriers on her path to serving as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court for more than 25 years, Ginsburg became known as the Notorious RBG. This agar art portrait of R.B.G., with her iconic lace collar and dark-rimmed glasses, was painted on V.R.B.G. agar media (which is an acronym for the components in the media which include the dye Violet Red, Bile, and the sugar Glucose). This media is typically used to selectively grow Gram-negative bacteria and assess if they can metabolize, through fermentation, the sugar glucose. Bacteria that can ferment glucose will produce acidic products which will turn the media bright pink. The microorganism used to paint this portrait was the Gram-negative bacterium Escherichia coli, strain K-12. Typically, this bacterium looks white; however, as it can ferment the glucose in the media, it appears bright pink on this V.R.B.G. agar plate.

"The Notorious R.B.G. on V.R.B.G."
By Michael E. Taveirne, Ph.D., Teaching Assistant Professor, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C.

Second Place (tie): 'Ablution'

Agar art, 'Ablution'

"Ablution means "to wash away." It also means ritual washing associated with religious observance. In hot, arid and water-stressed regions like the Middle East, urinary tract infection (UTI) is common. So one must not only wash externally but drink plenty of water too. Hydration is key in preventing UTI. For this reason I depicted desert, camel and date tree representing the landscape of the Middle East. I chose CLED agar used in isolating and enumerating bacteria in urine. Desert is Staphylococcus aureus, causing UTI among patients with urinary tract catheterization. Camel is Escherichia coli. E.coli-caused UTIs occur in the lower urinary tract or even in the kidneys. Trunk of the tree Providencia stuartii, opportunistic pathogen seen in patients with severe burns or long-term indwelling urinary catheters. Leaves are Proteus mirabilis, frequently pathogen of urinary tract, particularly in patients undergoing long-term catheterization. CLED agar is electrolyte deficient which suppress the swarming of Proteus. However, in this art, I incubated the agar at 36°C for 18 hours, then another 24 hours at 4°C. Swarming still occurs if incubated too long, but at lower temperature swarming is slow, my purpose for this art. I wanted a bit of swarming, to look like leaves of the palm tree.

By Michael V. Magaogao, Senior Lab Technician, RAK Medical & Health Sciences University, Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates.

Third Place: 'Fu(n)ji-san'

Agar art, 'Fu(n)ji-san'

This 3D agar art represents a volcanic eruption on an island, spewing lava down the mountainside toward the beach, surrounded by corals. The red corals surrounding the island have been made with a microorganism isolated from food, incubated on PCA medium dyed with Brilliant Blue colorant. The volcanic mountain is made of PDA medium shaped as a mountain, inoculated with the mould Cladosporium cladosporioides. The lava spouting forth from the crater was made by dropping agar stained with red food colouring. The idyllic beach at the foot of the volcano was made by pouring the beige-coloured spores of the mould Aspergillus ochraceus.

By Isabel Franco Castillo, Ph.D. Student, Instituto de Ciencia de Materiales de Aragón (ICMA-CSIC/UNIZAR & CIBER-BBN), Zaragoza, Spain.

People's Choice: 'Hungarian Folk Art'

Agar art, 'Hungarian Folk Art'

Hungarian folk art occupies an important space in the country's culture: colorful embroidery, pottery, lace produced by craftsmen are displayed in museums or you can see them everywhere in the countryside. These masterpieces can be so colorful and amazing like bacteria on chromogenic agar plates. When I was a child I attended folk dance classes and it was a great experience when we could put the beautifully embroidered clothes on. I tried to give something back from that feeling through this artwork.

"Hungarian Folk Art"
By Zita Pöstényi, Microbiologist, SYNLAB Hungary Ltd., Budapest, Hungary.

Maker Category Winners

First Place: 'My Living Portrait'

Agar art, 'My Living Portrait'

My piece is a bacterial self-portrait, utilizing both Serratia (red) and Micrococcus (yellow) bacteria. I was given only 4 bacterial species to work into my design. This piece was made possible with the help of my school's Biology department. I am a Digital Media Arts student at Prairie View A&M University, and through this project we were able to connect the worlds of design and microbiology. It was an overall great experience and a really cool medium to use in design!

"My Living Portrait"
By Korey Abram, Prairie View, Texas.

Second Place: 'The Microbes Among Us'

Agar art, 'The Microbes Among Us'

I recently discovered that from around 30 trillion cells in the human body, less than one-third are human. The other 70-90% are bacterial and fungal and, 99% of the unique genes in the human body are bacterial. Only about 1% is human. Ironically, there is a negative stigma associated with bacteria, and many people are afraid of bacteria and fungus even though our bodies are covered by the same. After news broke that E. coli was found in McDonald's lettuce, people became terrified of it even though most E. coli are harmless and are an essential component of a healthy human intestinal tract. To create my piece, I used E. coli with a plasmid containing LacZ and Kanamycin resistance. The woman in this image is formed by bacteria, as is the bird on her knee, her shoes, her clothes and the environment surrounding them. This piece will either help lessen the stigma associated with bacteria or induce a panic attack for germaphobes.

"The Microbes Among Us"
By Aradhita Parasrampuria, New York, N.Y.

Third Place: 'Mondays Like These'

Agar art, 'Mondays Like These'

Our agonised face seems like this on Monday morning as symbolising the anxiety of the lab staff. We tried to copy the famous panting of Edvard Munch with these colorful bacteria colonies.

"Mondays Like These"
By Andrea Héjja, Budapest, Hungary.

Kids Category Winners

First Place: 'Circle of Life'

Agar art, 'Circle of Life'

In this world, it seems like we all live in different places, cities, or countries, but in reality, we all live in the same world with plants, animals, and microorganisms. The houses and buildings symbolize humans, nowadays, we all seem to be inside tall buildings sitting in front of computers all day, not going outside. The flowers represent plant life, the ones that provide us with oxygen and we provide with CO2. The little squiggle on the side stands for the animals and microorganisms, animals are a food source for us, and when they die, their bodies can provide nutrients for the plants that grow in that soil following them.

"Circle of Life"
By Kate Lin, Age 11, created at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory DNA Learning Center, Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.

Second Place: 'The Honey Bee'

Agar art, 'The Honey Bee'

Manal loves honey bees and so do most kids! They love its shape, colour and of course the most delicious thing out there that it makes for us all: honey! It lives next to flowers and gardens which adds a beautiful context to where they live and also to what Manal sketches in her note book. Honey bees make large colonies and are responsible for pollination which lies at the basis of not just all the food we get but also the very process of evolution. Honey bees also find a special place in medieval books and sacred texts, including the Quran, Bible and Rigveda. Honey bees represent giving and doing good. Manal gets excited whenever she hears about it. Honey bees is only what she could think of when we gave her an agar plate.

"The Honey Bee"
By Manal Faisal Khan, Age 5, created at Peshawar 2.0, Peshawar, Pakistan.

Third Place: 'Fall'

Agar art, 'Fall'

Microbes living on the surface of leaves at the beginning of the fall season.

By Lilu Good-Martinez, Age 10, East Lansing, Mich.