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Chemistry In Pictures

Chemistry in Pictures: Microbial worlds

by Brianna Barbu
July 5, 2022

Petri dishes with colorful streaks of bacteria and dyes, arranged to look like the planets in our solar system.
Credit: Sarah Adkins-Jablonsky

Each planet in this digital collage by microbe artist Sarah Adkins-Jablonsky—called “Ode to Kate Rubins” after the first person to sequence DNA in space—is represented by a Petri dish filled with agar, soil bacteria, and dyes. Adkins-Jablonsky used varieties of Streptomyces for most of the planets, and Chromobacterium violaceum for the violet-blue of Earth’s oceans. She achieved the swirly planetary patterns by using a softer type of agar than is used for normal bacterial cultures. The artwork won second place in the open category for the American Society for Microbiology’s 2021 agar art contest.

“I was really thinking about how I can make agar art in a way that portrays my vision of the future and microbiology in the future,” Adkins-Jablonsky said as she described her work to attendees of a microbial art exhibit in Washington, DC on June 12.

For her, the future of agar art is not just something pretty to look at, but also “a breeding ground for novel hypotheses about microbial ecology.” While working towards a PhD in biology education at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Adkins-Jablonsky focused on using microbe art to engage undergraduate students in the scientific process. “They observed really weird interactions like antibiotic resistance happening in the plates and then used those to make their own projects,” she says.

Credit: Sarah Adkins-Jablonsky. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @admiraladkins.

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