From camels to dandelions. Scientists create incredible “living” paintings from microbes (photo)

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From camels to dandelions. Scientists create incredible

Genetic engineering and a modicum of imagination allow researchers and artists to create whimsical “canvases” from microscopic organisms.

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The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) Microbiology Art Competition was first held in 2015. Since then, hundreds of scientists from all over the world have been striving to create something unique using a variety of bacteria palettes as paints, writes Popular Science.

Curiously, bacteria offer scientist-artists an extremely rich palette. For example, Serratia marcescens blooms bright cherry red, while Streptomyces coelicolor turns sky blue. The researchers use as a canvas a petri dish filled with a jelly-like substance (agar) that the brightly colored bacteria love to feed on. Scientists use flame-sterilized wire as a brush – they draw an intricate invisible pattern on the canvas with it, and after a few days, in its place, bacteria form incredible drawings of jellyfish, dandelions or camels that can be seen with the naked eye.

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This year is no exception, and the results of the competition have already been summed up. This year's winners used microbes to paint portraits of their favorite biologists, including Rosalind Franklin and Odo Buiwid.

From camels to dandelions. Scientists create incredible

From camels to dandelions. Scientists create incredible

According to Mehmet Berkmen, a bacterial geneticist at New England Biolabs in Ipswich, USA, who won the first competition in 2015, microbial art is actually quite simple. Bacteria come in a variety of shapes and forms, which is why scientists can use the colorful hues of microbes to create intricate, miraculous “living” paintings. Berkman notes that microbial art is not much different from ordinary drawing, but there are still some nuances. Due to the fact that “paints” are essentially living organisms, it can sometimes be difficult to predict what they will do as they grow. For example, the neighborhood of red and white bacteria may end up with the fact that the latter simply will not allow the neighbors to turn red, and, alas, there are many such nuances.

To get around this obstacle, some scientists use various tricks, such as genetically engineering the same microbes of different colors. According to NYU synthetic biologist Langone Health, in this case scientists are “brazenly plagiarizing what already exists in nature.”

From camels to dandelions. Scientists create incredible

From camels to dandelions. Scientists create incredible

However, there are also scientists-artists who prefer to stick to the original shades that microbes produce in nature. However, according to Berkman, there are essentially no rules in this genre of art, but the creators will need to be well versed in what they are doing.

According to Berkman, microbial art could also be a great tool for fixing the bad reputation of bacteria. After all, there are millions, and according to some data, even a trillion, bacteria in the world, and only a few of them pose a threat to people. Scientists believe that these intricate paintings could improve the situation and improve people's attitude towards microbes.

By the way, the competition is not only open to scientists, artists, non-artists and even children can also take part in it.