Fri, 07, 19

Petri Dish Picasso is an organization bringing this little-known art to the masses.....

Painting with bacteria

Petri Dish Picasso is an organization bringing this little-known art to the masses. The artists use bacteria as their paint and fungus as their canvas to educate people about the important relationship we have with microbes. This art is being used to change people’s minds about microorganisms.

The person credited with pioneering the art is Alexander Fleming. He’s the scientist who discovered the antibiotic properties of penicillin.

Here’s how you can paint a dandelion, for instance, with bacteria:

Agar is sterilized into a liquid at about 250°F, poured into a petri dish, and left to cool and solidify. This is the canvas and the life support for the microbiome. A microbiome is defined as the microorganisms in a particular environment.

In separate containers, the paint, or microbes, must be grown. A liquid broth of water and nutrients does the trick.

A popular ingredient for making agar art is E. coli. Each organism has different nutritional needs and can produce different colors. A single cell of E. coli can grow to over several billion cells overnight.

Using a few different tools, the cultured bacteria cells are taken from their stew and gently painted onto the agar.

It’s almost like painting with invisible ink because the cells need to grow into mature colony clusters for you to see them. They’re put in an incubator at their optimal growing temperature. E. coli prefers to be grown at about 99°F. Depending on how fast the microbes replicate, the incubation step can take anywhere from 12 hours to several days.

Agar art doesn’t last forever. As the cells run out of nutrients, they will begin to die. Some agar artists try to preserve their work by casting it in resin, but not Petri Dish Picasso.

Career advice for aspiring scientists

Invest your time only if you truly enjoy it

If patience is not your strong point, then it is likely that these long hours will transform your perception of lab work into nothing more than a chore. No one ever wants a career that is a chore.

Not every experiment works every time

You may perform the same experiment hundreds of times. Don’t give up!

Just remember that we would not use the word “research” if we actually knew what we were doing every time.

Do not be afraid to ask questions

Scientific research relies on asking questions. The earlier you ask essential questions in your career, the faster you will progress. The only way to truly learn is to build a thicker skin, learn from critiques, and accept the fact that your best resource may be the scary supervisor.

Publications can be your best friend or your worst enemy

Many scientists believe that their quality is solely based on publications. But if you are early in your career, publications should not be the main priority. These will come in time, but only after you have solidified the laboratory skills which are essential to actually conducting quality experiments.

You may not be the first person to make a particular discovery

The best advice is to collaborate as much as possible within your field. Other scientists, both locally and internationally, are resources that allow you to look behind the curtain and potentially hear what not to do in the lab. If negative results were shared more frequently, less people would be repeating mistakes, and advancements would occur more rapidly.

Compiled by SZ