Making art with growing Bacteria on agar plates.

History of germ discovery.

When the Dutch Antonie van Leeuwenhoek in first saw microbes under the microscope in the 1670s, he became known as the father of microbiology. But centuries passed before scientists could more easily grow them on agar plates. Now, microbial growth is at the center of what’s called agar art—by buying common lab growth medium as a canvas and applying growing organisms to create what look like sketches, paintings, and even 3D artworks.

For the last five years, the American Society of Microbiology (ASM) has been running an agar art competition. This year brought in more then 340 entries across categories for scientists, non-scientists, and children. Entrants submitted photos of their agar art creations, ASM staff judged the submissions in each category, and the public voted on social media to award People’s Choice honors. Buy some agar plates and send your agar art to ASM

Art and science

The ASM Agar Art Contest was born from a “pic of a day” series on social media. When an image of agar art from Rositsa Tashkova went viral in December 2014, ASM staff had an idea. By the following summer, they had launched their first agar art contest.

Growing microbes
Angelina Hesse (1850-1934), an assistant in Koch’s lab in Germany, discovered that an ingredient used in jellies and puddings could be used to create a better growth medium. That ingredient was agar, a gelatinous substance isolated from seaweed. For more info about Angelina Hesse

She mentioned this to her husband, who also happened to worked in the Koch’s lab in Germany. He reported the idea to Koch, who eventually used it to cultivate germs. Unfortunately, Hesse never received credit for her discovery, but her contribution
revolutionized the way scientists grow germs – (which is the reason why we made this video).

Scientists have created a variety of agar plates to meet the needs of a diverse set of microorganisms, a colorful assortment that perfectly serves as an unconventional canvas for living art. Alexander Fleming (1881-1955), the scientist who discovered penicillin, was one of the early adopters of agar art. However, agar art did not gather steam for decades.

Painting with Germs
Like other art forms, agar art involves some planning: coming up with the idea, culturing germs, and choosing the colors. But it also involves a lot of waiting and patience. The microbes are painted onto the agar, invisible to the human eye. They are placed in an incubator and then multiply on the agar to unveil the painted artwork within a couple days, in most cases.

Though microbes surround us all the time, most are unseen. Agar artists change that, revealing an invisible world limited only by the microbial palette and the creator’s imagination.

Agar art is now part of the curriculum of many schools, our mission is to participate and grow the community. Did you know that we have managed to create a kit with agar plates and incubator to grow bacteria and fungi at a reasonable price:

For more information:

If you are in living in the USA:

For all other countries:

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