The second annual Agar Art contest, sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology, fused science and design by encouraging entrants to “paint a little culture.” Scientists created unique artwork using an agar canvas and microbial “paint.” A whopping 117 submissions from 26 countries were evaluated based on multiple criteria, including creativity/originality, design, presentation, and scientific accuracy of description. On June 8, ASM announced the winners of this year’s contest, including first-place winner and PLOS ECR Community blogger Md Zohorul Islam. Read on to learn more about the inspiration behind his winning piece, “The First Race,” and check out other stunning pieces in this gallery from The Guardian.
My inspiration for this piece was my passion for learning about microbes. I wanted to reveal the diversity of the microbial world through this artwork. As a PhD student in microbiology, I have many opportunities to explore the microbial universe. I collect specimens from humans, animals and environment to detect a specific type of microorganism, but sometimes I find diverse, colorful microbes other than my target microbes. In these instances, I isolate and store these microbes using standard microbiological procedures.
In my winning piece “The First Race”, I depicted the biological process of fertilization. Fertilization is the first competitive event of plant and animal life – the 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 meets the egg to create a zygote that develops into an embryo.
I used four bacteria as paint and a selective agar medium as canvas. The red colored paint is Staphylococcus aureus, an opportunistic pathogen in both humans and animals. The green color is Staphylococcus xylosus, a commensal organism in human skin, and the white is Staphylococcus hyicus, an animal pathogen responsible for greasy pig disease. The yellow color comes from 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 mixture of two or more of these four organisms.
The winners and some of the best submissions from 2015 and 2016 were displayed at ASM Microbe 2016 in the Agar Art Gallery in the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, Level 2, Southeast Lobby.