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Let’s face it- just about anyone who has taken a high school biology class knows what agar is. The algae-based jelly-like substance has often helped budding biologists grow a plethora of different bacteria on our flimsy Petri dishes, whether it be E. Coli or that fuzzy green stuff you found on your breakfast sandwich, often resulting in some truly startling visuals a few days later. It’s true- agar has led (for many a high school student) to some interesting and funky science experiments.
That being said, how would you feel if you knew that agar wasn’t  used only for science…but for art, too?
That’s right: The American Society for Microbiology has been hosting an Agar Art Contest for the past three years now, and the results are stunning. They ask only for “works that are, at their core, an organism(s) growing on agar.” The participants are allowed to use bacteria and Petri dishes as they wish. According to Discover Magazinethis year’s winner, Jasmine Temple, who also has a background in studio art despite being a lab technician at the New York University Medical Center, used a plethora of yeast cultures to design a dazzling portrait of a sunset over water. Despite how simple the completed image sounds, the project took years to complete. And still, she isn’t done yet; Discover Magazine states that Temple plans on continuing on adding to the palette in order to further create more complex images.
The ASM winners’ page states that the second place winner, Linh Ngo, drew inspiration for her five-petri-dish display (which incorporated three strains of different bacteria) from the coral reefs depicted in Disney’s Finding Nemo. The artwork was thus cunningly titled “Finding Pneumo.” The third place winner, Ana Tsitsishvili, an undergrad at the Agricultural University of Georgia, manipulated colorful bacteria to portray an almost fairytale-like rendering of a couple dancing.
Sounds unbelievable, doesn’t it? But don’t be fooled- this contest hasn’t been entered by only occasional bacteria geeks. According to the American Society for Microbiology, around 265 submissions were received in the most recent contest, spanning 36 countries, and over 300 entries including those from partner contests. It’s true-blue proof that science and art really can coexist together after all.


If this sounds like something you’d be willing to put effort into and want to try your luck at winning up to $485 in prizes, be sure to regularly check out the ASM’s webpage to see when the 2018 contest starts up. The bio geek deep within you will be glad you did.

Lontok, K. (n.d.). Agar Art 2017 Contest Now Open. Retrieved July 15, 2017, from

Communications, A. (n.d.). Fusing Design and Science, ASM’s Agar Art Contest is Back for Round Three. Retrieved July 15, 2017, from

(2017, May 26). Agar Art Contest Winners Grow Masterpieces with Microbes. Retrieved July 15, 2017, from

Edited by: Kaylynn Crawford and Shreya Singireddy