The American Society for Microbiologists recently hosted its first international ‘Agar Art’ challenge in which microbiologists from around the world used various microbes and germs to create beautiful works of art in petri dishes. The submissions included recognizable paintings like Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ as well as original microbe paintings.

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The scientists used nutritious agar jelly as a “canvas” for their colorful microbes. While they do add an element of randomness as they grow, they can also do things that paint cannot – some of them emit bioflourescent light under certain conditions, while others, guided by the scientists, grew into perfect tree-branch patterns or jelly-fish tentacles.

For more about the process behind art like this, read about the work of Tasha Sturm, a microbiologist who used an agar dish to capture the germs on an eight-year-old boy’s hand.

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Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” Proteus mirabilis, Acinetobacter baumanii, Enterococcus faecalis, Klebsiella pneumonia

Flowering Sunshine, Shigella, Salmonella

First place: Neurons by Mehmet Berkmen and artist Maria Pernil, Nesterenkonia, Deinociccus, Sphingomonas

The Great Wave of Candida by Cristina Marcos, Candida albicans, Candida glabrata, Candida parapsilosis

The Streptomyces Sky, Streptomyces coelicolor

People’s choice: Cell to Cell by Mehmet Berkmen and artist Maria Pernil, Nesterenkonia, Deinociccus, Sphingomonas

Third place: Harvest season by Maria Eugenia Inda, Saccharomyces cerevisiae

Mushrooms, Nesterenkonia, Deinociccus, Sphingomonas

Yeast Go Viral, S. cerevisiae, L-A virus

Cells, Nesterenkonia, Deinociccus, Sphingomonas

Second place: NYC Biome Map by Christine Marizzi, Escherichia coli K12

Jellyfish by Maria Penil, Nesterenkonia, Deinociccus, Sphingomonas, Bacillus

Click here to learn about how Tasha Sturm made this microbe handprint with her 8-year-old son: