Microbial Artists Use Bacteria to Create


The link between science and art has always been blurry, and in the case of Alexander Fleming — the inventor of penicillin — the two intermingled in a curious way his entire life. His “accidental” discovery of the drug — in which he left several cultures of staphylococci in his lab during a vacation and returned to find them being overwhelmed by a mysterious fungus-cum-wonder drug — was an experiment of sorts that carried over into his career as an artist. Fleming was a watercolor painter, but also used various forms of bacteria as his medium. Each microbe was tinged with its own natural coloring, making it a painstaking process for Fleming who had to wait until the culture was just the right shade to work with. By filling a Petri dish with a gelatinous substance (agar) and inoculating the sample he could grow different species. His work has helped to inspire a group of artists who also make microbial art. Check out eight artists’ works made from various bacteria, and let us know which ones you dig before you leave the puter to obsessively wash your hands.

Image credit: Alexander Fleming [Spotted via Smithsonian/Microbial Art]

Image credit: Niall Hamilton Apple Tree (Fungi and bacteria on agar)

Image credit: Gregory Lab HMS Beagle (E. coli on colored agar)

Image credit: Matt Good and Jeff Tabor Einstein (“Bacterial ‘photographs’ created using genetically modified bacteria that make pigment when exposed to light.”)

Image credit: Hunter Cole Her Own DNA (“Living Drawings Created with Bioluminescent Bacteria with Protein Music”)

Image credit: JoWOnder 6 Days Goodbye Poems of Ophelia

Image credit: John Everett Millais Ophelia (1851-1852)

Image credit: Susan Boafo Endless Forms Most Beautiful (” … Created by millions of living, single-celled, aquatic organisms as they carry out photosynthesis. Photographic negatives are placed in front of Euglena gracilis and they are drawn towards the varying degrees of light passing through the negatives.”)

Image credit: Daro Montag Lower Treculliacks (Grass, 2000)