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These petri dish "paintings" reveal the hidden beauty of bacteria

Bacteria are all around us, and sometimes they're a nuisance. They make us sick. They dirty our homes. They can render our food inedible.

But we also need bacteria in order to live. Scientists have realized that our microbial colonies, or "microbiome," actually help us survive and thrive.

Now microbiologists who work with bacteria have a chance to celebrate these friends and foes, turning their petri dishes into artistic canvases.

Every year, the American Society for Microbiology asks its members to submit examples of their most stunning microbes painted on plates of agar jelly.

As you can see, many bacteria come in gorgeous shapes and colors, which only scientists who look at them under a microscope get to appreciate.

Last year's winners show how perfectly appointed bacteria and yeast could be easily mistaken for oil paintings:

For "Neurons," artist Maria Penil painted with yellow Nesterenkonia, orange Deinococcus, and Sphingomonas — all types of bacteria. After growing the bacteria for two days at 30˚C, she permanently sealed the plate in epoxy.
In full size, this plate features a map of New York City made from Escherichia coli K12 bacteria engineered with colorful fluorescent proteins like GFP, RFP, and YFP as paint.
"Harvest Season" features Saccharomyces cerevisiae — a species of yeast that helps make bread, wine, and beer. So this plate depicts a farmhouse with the wheat production laced in the country yard.

The contest is ongoing, and the deadline this year is May 6. The judges are composed of scientists and artists, who consider the works for their creativity, originality, design, and presentation as well as the scientific accuracy of the description.

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