If you don't think bacteria are beautiful, think again. This year's Agar Art Contest, an annual competition hosted by the American Society for Microbiology, is the source of some true microbe masterpieces. For the contest, microbiologists and artists "paint" strands of bacteria on agar, a gelatinous substance used to make biological cultures. Here are some of the winners and crowd favorites from the strange competition: [Read the full story about the Agar Art Contest]

Brainy bacteria

 

The first place prize in the contest went to Mehmet Berkmen of New England Biolabs and artist Maria Penil, who used yellow and orange-colored bacteria to paint the nerve cells they painted in their submission, called "Neurons." (Credit: American Society for Microbiology/Mehmet Berkmen and Maria Penil from Massachusetts.)


Microbial map

 

Christine Marizzi submitted this intricate map of New York City, and the interesting composition earned her second place. A community educator, Marizzi worked with citizen scientists and artists at Genspace: New York City's Community Biolab to create this street map of the Big Apple. (Credit: American Society for Microbiology/Christine Marizzi and Genspace: New York City's Community Biolab.)


Ode to autumn

 

Third place went to Maria Eugenia Inda, a postdoctoral researcher at Cold Spring Harbor Labs in New York, who created this petri dish masterpiece, "Harvest Season," using yeast. The bacteria-laden painting features a tiny farmhouse surrounding by wheat fields. (Credit: American Society for Microbiology/Maria Eugenia Inda from Argentina.)


People's Choice

 

This entry from Berkmen and Penil (the same duo that won first place in the competition) took home the "Viewers' Choice" award. (Credit: American Society for Microbiology/Mehmet Berkmen and Maria Penil from Massachusetts.)


Probiotic painting

 

These blossoming flowers are the work of researchers from IPLA-CSIC, a dairy research institute in Spain. The bacteria used to paint the blossoms is a popular probiotic, Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis. (Credit: American Society for Microbiology.)


Botanical sun

 

This piece, entitled "Flowering Sunshine," was submitted by Manal Hamed of Qatar. (Credit: American Society for Microbiology/Manal Hamed of Qatar.)


Secret garden

 

This entry, titled "The Wild Garden of the Gut Bacteria," was submitted by Nicola Fawcett of the University of Oxford. Fawcett said she was inspired to create this swirling floral piece by the veritable "garden" of bacteria that lives, you guessed it, in the human gut. (Credit: American Society for Microbiology/by Nicola Fawcett of England.)


Microbe master

 

Just when you thought Vincent van Gogh's "The Starry Night" couldn't get any more beautiful, someone goes and recreates this masterpiece out of bacteria. Melanie Sullivan, a researcher at the Washington University School of Medicine, painted these petri dishes using a variety of bacteria, including one — Acinetobacter baumanii — that can be harmful to people with weakened immune systems. (Credit: American Society for Microbiology/Melanie Sullivan of Missouri.)


Viral artwork

 

Submitted by Paul Rowley of the University of Colorado, Boulder, this geometrically themed piece shows virus particles. The shapes were painted using a strain of yeast called S. cerevisiae, which was infected with a virus called L-A. (Credit: American Society for Microbiology/Paul Rowley of Colorado.)

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