Colorful bacteria provide palette for microbial art
In small petri dishes, colorful bacteria are arranged artfully, forming shapes of Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
They are works from a microbial art design contest held recently at Shenyang Pharmaceutical University in northeastern China’s Liaoning province.
More than 170 students signed up for the competition and created more than 100 pieces of work with bacteria they had cultured. The images included people, animals, cartoon characters and copies of famous paintings.
“It’s where science meets art,” said Zhang Yixuan, vice-dean of the university’s Biological Science and Biomedicine College.
“Microbial art originated in the United States; painters not only need to have basic laboratory skills but also knowledge about art.”
Wang Shuang, a contestant and student at the university, said, “Patience creates miracles in microbial painting.”
To create a work, Wang sterilizes the lab equipment, extracts bacteria from soil, selects those that can create the right colors and cultures them. The process usually takes a month and needs to be done in a strictly sanitized environment, as any bacteria from the external environment can compromise the work.
“The process is laborious but fun,” Wang said.
“As we culture the bacteria in the dish, we can witness the process of bacteria growing into colorful dots.”
Wang uses a slim bamboo stick to select the color he wants to paint on another dish.
“The selection is very complicated and demanding,” he said. “If the bacteria selected are not pure enough, they will grow into different colors in the other dish, damaging the work.”
His paintings are completed after culturing the selected bacteria for three to five days.
Wang said he and his fellow contestants extracted the harmless bacteria from the soil they collected from the roots of herbs growing on a local mountain during their summer vacation.
“The contest combines professional knowledge with colorful activities,” Zhang said.
“We expect it to encourage the students to innovate and enrich their lives.”