Bacterial paintings—new living art
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   Numerous artists are inspired by the microbial world that involves viruses, bacteria, fungi, or even anything that requires a microscope to observe. 

Bacterial Bloom

   If you leave food out for long enough, it’ll be infested by microbes, eventually sprouting bizarre patterns and colors. Thus, it’s time to get rid of it. However, a group of scientists/painters are deliberately exploiting the same process to create unique paintings called ‘microbial art’. By brushing selected living bacteria onto a culture medium inside Petri dishes, they produce new, colorful patterns and abstracts.

   The first person to begin creating art out of microbes was the inventor of penicillin himself, Alexander Fleming, who scratched out pictures inside Petri dishes. This technique is still used today, but, progressively, artists and microbiologists are delving into the microscopic world of bacteria in more stirring ways.

Bacteria art-plates assorted

   Both scientists and painters have utilized bacteria as a source of experimentation and entertainment, as CNET chronicles, from British artist JoWonder’s bacterium transformation of 1852 painting “Ophelia” by Pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais to Susan Boafo’s haunting photo negatives created with algae spores.

   Today’s microbial artists use a variety of techniques.
   They utilize agar as the growth medium and blend in food coloring to acquire different colors. The agar is rich in nutrients that bacteria need to grow. The images are “drawn” on utilizing a tiny paintbrush and E. coli in liquid medium. And then, these bacteria paintings are left to grow in a laboratory incubator. After a couple of days of incubation, the bacteria spread over the agar canvases grew and changed color, making the masterpiece visible. 

Fungal Christmas Tree

   Certain artists utilize solutions of luminescent bacteria, some utilize fungi; others combine bacteria with food dye. They have, however, one specific thing in common: like food, bacterial paintings have a short shelf life. Once the bacterial paintings have outgrown their initial patterns, they die. Thus, microbial art is actually an ephemeral art form.

Interesting facts

  • Due to the fact that many types of bacteria can cause severe illnesses, microbial art isn’t an activity you can do at home! Certain bacteria are “opportunistic pathogens”, which signifies they can infect people who already have a weakened immune system due to being sick, tired or stressed. 
  • Katayoun Chamany, a biology professor at The New School for Liberal Arts in New York, utilized genetically modified bacteria to produce green and blue paint. Color green was acquired from combining the E. coli with a fluorescent gene from a jellyfish, and blue was acquired from combining E. coli and a beta-galactosidase gene.

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Photos: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

Published by Claudia Barbu

11 April 2015, 00:16 bacterial paintings, microbial art, bacteria, fungi, agar, E-coli2469

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