This kind of art really grows on you. Well, actually, it grows in a petri dish — and the strange, swirling, colorful forms you’ll see here were actually carefully cultivated by microbiologists for a competition.
The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) hosted its first ASM Agar Art Contest. Yep, that’s a thing!
Contestants grew various microbes in agar, a gel-like substance, and “painted” with them to form images.
This is the competition’s winner, Neurons. It’s a collaborative work by Mehmet Berkmen of New England Biolabs and artist Maria Penil.
The contestants chose their microbes, let them incubate, and guided them into various forms. Some people used multiple dishes.
This is the runner-up, called NYC Biome MAP. The work, by Christine Marizzi and her team, makes use of multiple petri dishes full of E. coli bacteria and glowing proteins to make a miniature map of Manhattan.
If you didn’t know, you would think this was created with thick oil paints — not a species of yeast.
The second runner up, Harvest, by Maria Eugenia Inda of Cold Spring Harbor Labs, looks like a Van Gogh painting.
Contestant Melanie Sullivan took the Van Gogh inspiration a step further with this petri dish recreation of Starry Night.
Mehmet Berkmen and Maria Penil, whose other entry won the contest, also submitted Cell to Cell, which used a similar color scheme.
With careful planning and guidance, some pretty amazing shapes can be made from microbes.
Lizah van der Aart used a skull-shaped container for her piece, Hunger Games.
Some pieces took on more nebulous forms, like this one, which looks like a night sky.
This piece is Joseph Sallmen’s Streptomyces Sky.
And some are astounding in their detail. The Violet Louis Pasteur, by Dharshika Jayasuriya, shows a portrait of the famous scientist.
If you never thought you’d find artwork in a petri dish, think again! This contest shows us that beauty can be found in the weirdest places. We hope that this becomes a yearly contest, because it’s pretty darn cool.