San Diego Beach scene by Roger Tsien's lab


You solved your third Amazing Bio-Hunt clue! 
In finding this clue you would have most likely seen some incredible bacteria art pieces. These pieces are created at the intersection of microbiology and art.
Let's take a deeper look at how these disciplines are connected!

Agar Plate of Fluorescent Bacteria Colonies by Roger Tsien's laboratory: A San Diego beach scene drawn with an eight color palette of bacterial colonies expressing fluorescent proteins derived from GFP and the red-fluorescent coral protein dsRed. The colors include BFP, mTFP1, Emerald, Citrine, mOrange, mApple, mCherry and mGrape. Artwork by Nathan Shaner, photography by Paul Steinbach, created in the lab of Roger Tsien in 2006. Source:   Learn more about the Fluorescent protein discovery and impact from Roger Tsien himself in this recorded lecture:

As you have learned from friday's clue, gene segments are sequences of DNA that code for specific functions such as smell, or in this case, colour! Artists take bacteria, yeasts, or sometimes even protists and insert genes segments that code for the colours they want to use to create a "painting palette" of coloured microorganisms. The action of inserting genes into organisms is called genetic engineering. Once their colours are engineered in the microorganisms, they are grown on petri plates containing agar, a substance containing all the nutrients required for the microorganisms to grow. Once the microorganisms are grown and colored, the artists can create beautiful pieces of living art on petri dish that can be displayed and even entered into competitions!

A large bacteria painting competition in the United States of America is the Agar Art Contest by the American Society for Microbiology. What started in 2015 with only 80 submissions has grown to receive over 200 submissions last year!

But did you know that bacteria art began long before the 2000's? The first pieces of known bacteria art come from the 1920's  - by renowned scientist Sir Alexander Fleming, the individual who discovered the antibiotic Penicillin. In fact, Flemings endeavours in bacteria art might have resulted in the accidental discovery of penicillin in the first place! Fleming painted many pieces, from ballerinas, houses, soldiers to mothers feeding children. However, since he did not have access to genetically engineered colorful organisms, since that was not yet invented, he cultured naturally colorful microorganisms he found in the enviroment and perhaps colleague's labs. He used different varieties of bacteria to get colors such as brown, violet, pink, red, yellow, orange and more. With time Fleming’s palette grew richer as he found more bacteria with the colors he needed. 


Oldest known bacteria paintings by Professor Alexander Fleming, who first discovered the mould Penicillin Notatum. Source:


If you would like to try a safe and easy to follow, step-by-step, experience to make your own bacteria art, you can have a look at our Canvas Kit where you can make your own agar art or have a look at our Canvas kit simulator to see what steps scientists and artists take to make their own art pieces.