The Incredible Art of Bacteria

Colonies of tens of billions of microorganisms create their own artwork as they adapt to stresses in a petri dish. Scientists add the colors and shading. (Image credit: Eshel Ben-Jacob et al., Tel-Aviv University)

Professor Eshel Ben-Jacob of Tel-Aviv University and Professor Herbert Levine of UCSD's National Science Foundation Frontier Center for Theoretical Biological Physics watched bacteria solve problems in the petri dish for years. In doing so, they caught bacteria in the act of creating beautiful art.

"While the colors and shading are artistic additions, the image templates are actual colonies of tens of billions of these microorganisms," according to the researchers. "The colony structures form as adaptive responses to laboratory-imposed stresses that mimic hostile environments faced in nature. They illustrate the coping strategies that bacteria have learned to employ, strategies that involve cooperation through communication. These selfsame strategies are used by the bacteria in their struggle to defeat our best antibiotics...

"In a sense, the strikingly beautiful organization of the pattern reflects the underlying social intelligence of the bacteria. The once controversial idea that bacteria cooperate to solve challenges has become commonplace, with the discovery of specific channels of communication between the cells and specific mechanisms facilitating the exchange of genetic information. Retrospectively, these capabilities should not have been seen as so surprising, as bacteria set the stage for all life on Earth and indeed invented most of the processes of biology."

Although humans do create beautiful solutions to problems, its surprising how often imitating nature provides the best solution. This approach is called biomimicry; RoboSalmon, the soft-bodied Gummi-Bots, and the Squid-Type Underwater Inspector robot are all examples in which human beings imitated nature's best solution.

See more images at Eshel Ben-Jacob's website and read about the science in their Bacteria Art paper.

(This Science Fiction in the News story used with permission of - where science meets fiction.)

Bill Christensen catalogues the inventions, technology and ideas of science fiction writers at his website, Technovelgy. He is a contributor to Live Science.