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How to Create Agar Art with Living Microbes

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What can happen when a scientist and a mixed media artist team up? In the case of Maria and Memo, mixed media artist Maria Peñil Cobo and New England Biolabs scientist Mehmet Berkmen, living microbes become agar art.

In this 2017 how-to video guide from the American Society for Microbiology, Peñil and Berkmen demonstrate their process for safely creating images with living microbes.

"painting" on agar
agar art example
The duo stirs up their own lab-made agar, but you can purchase sets of agar plates from reputable educational and science equipment companies.

Find more examples in ASM’s archives, including their 2021, 2020, 2019 and 2018 Agar Art Contest winners.

2015 award-winning agar art

• ASM Agar Art Contest.
• Top 5 Agar Tips from ASM.
• Creating Art and Education with Microbes from ASM.
• Inspiring High School Students’ Creativity and Design Thinking with Agar Art from ASM.
• Painting in a petri dish from, a European journal for science teachers.
PODCAST ALERT: NPR’s Shortwave podcast explains “It’s like drawing on Jell-O with invisible ink” in the episode below:

Related reading in Smithsonian Magazine: How Microbiologists Craft Stunning Art Using Pathogens.

Watch this video next: Subvisual Subway – The Art of New York City’s Bacterial World.

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