How wonderful is it? Agar art painting by microbiologists. It is a unique way to merge art and science together featuring Petri plates painted with cultures to create microbial masterpieces.

Microbial art or agar art is artwork created by culturing microorganisms in certain attractive designs and patterns. Historically, if we see so Alexander Fleming, who had a credit of discovery of penicillin, was known for creating germ arts. Similarly, green fluorescent protein (GFP). A researcher, Nathan Shaner, made a 2006 microbial artwork using GFP i.e green fluorescent protein of a San Diego beach scene.


It looks indeed charming, using an agar plate which feeds the bacteria as they grow, microbiologists now inoculate the plates with bacteria that are naturally colourful or those with fluorescent genes of different colours to develop masterpieces of artwork. The microbes used can be bacteria, fungi and could be others both ways can be adopted to choose for this activity either the microbes can be selected for their natural colours, or can be deliberately engineered to produce fluorescent proteins and viewed under ultraviolet light as a result of their fluorescence.  In fact, “Agar art” is its own art form: for the past few years, the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) has held an agar art competition in the conference accepting submissions of wonderful master art pieces from around the world.

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For this purpose, agar plates serve as a canvas for the microbiologist, on the other hand, pigmented or fluorescent bacteria and yeasts behave like the paint. In order to keep it safe for a few days, a piece of microbial art, after a sufficient incubation, is sealed with tape. Microbe species can be chosen for their natural colours to form a palette for the artwork.

Suitable species of bacteria (with their colours) include Escherichia coli (colourless), Bacillus subtilis (cream to brown), Micrococcus roseus (pink), Chromobacterium violaceum (violet), Micrococcus luteus (yellow), Proteus mirabilisPseudomonas aeruginosa (brown), Pseudomonas fluorescens (naturally blue-green fluorescent with pyoverdine), Serratia marcescens (pink or orange), Staphylococcus aureus (yellow), and Vibrio fischeri(bioluminescent).

Yeast species which are fungi mainly include, Aspergillus ochraceus (yellow), ude Saccharomyces cerevisiae (yellow-white) Aspergillus flavus (yellow-green spores), , Aureobasidium pullulans (black), Candida albicans (whitish buff), Candida sakeCandida sp. (whitish),  Fusarium sp., Rhodotorula sp., and Scopulariopsis brevicaulis.

Protist species used include Euglena gracilis (photosynthetic, green) and Physarum polycephalum (yellow-green).

A technique called “bacteriography” involves selectively killing certain areas of a bacterial culture with radiation, to create artistic impressive patterns. After incubation, the culture is sealed with tape.