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Painting with Bacteria: Connecting Art and Science

Semiannual Agar Art Contest, sponsored by the College of Life Sciences Department of Microbiology and Molecular Biology (MMBIO).

Students across campus combined their creativity skills with their curiosity for science by painting agar plates using harmless E. coli bacteria at the semiannual Agar Art Contest, sponsored by the College of Life Sciences Department of Microbiology and Molecular Biology (MMBIO).

Participants use seven genetically modified bacteria that are prepared by the MMBIO lab team. Inserting specific genes—including antibiotic resistance genes—into the bacteria, the lab team cultivates the desired colors. However, at first, the genetically-modified bacteria appear clear against the spongy surface of the agar, a jelly-like substance found in algae.

After students paint the bacteria on the nutrient-rich canvas, MMBIO staff place the tiny masterpieces into a body-temperature incubator. Since the Petri dishes are treated with antibiotics, only the bacteria with the genetically modified gene survive, ensuring that any harmful environmental bacteria do not grow. Overnight, the bacteria feed on the stiff agar base of the Petri dish, bringing to life the vibrant colors of the genetically altered organisms. This year, more than 200 plates were painted by BYU students. The MMBIO staff chose three winners each semester based on effort, skill, and entertainment value.

Agar Art Painting Winners from Fall 2021

FALL 2021 WINNING ENTRIES

First place: Sydney Scherbel, Spooky Scene
Second place: Lindy Mangrum, First Vision
Third place: Trenton Gibson, Baby Yoda

Agar Art Painting Winners from Winter 2022

WINTER 2022 WINNING ENTRIES

First place: Maura Brumbaugh, Black Panther
Second place: Lindy Mangrum, The Mandalorian
Third place: Asia Whitaker, Kevin